The seas around Scotland have a wide variety of marine wildlife and varied habitats and support a diverse abundance of marine organisms. Sandeel form a particularly important component of the North Sea ecosystem and a link between different levels of the marine food chain from plankton up to commercial fish species, seabirds, and marine mammals. As an island-based society, the sea around Scotland has always had an important role to play, offering a source of food and recreation.
The Scottish Government has national and international commitments to protect marine biodiversity, and to take necessary measures to protect and conserve the marine ecosystem. The Scottish Government is also committed to the sustainable management of fisheries, which includes taking account of the protection of biodiversity and healthy functioning ecosystems.
The Scottish Government has committed under Future Fisheries Management Strategy to work with stakeholders to deliver an ecosystem-based approach to management, including considering additional protections for spawning and juvenile congregation areas and restricting fishing activity or prohibiting fishing for species which are integral components of the marine food web, such as sandeel.
Marine protection needs to evolve to protect our marine ecosystem and manage activities that can impact on our ecosystem services which are already responding to climate change.
Taking this into account, the Scottish Government is consulting on proposals to close fishing for sandeel in all Scottish waters. The consultation, which will seek views on these proposals, is being undertaken with the purpose of bringing about wider environmental and ecosystem benefits. These include potential benefits to sandeel, seabirds, marine mammals, and other fish species.
Desired aims of the consultation
The Scottish Government wishes to consider and implement a closure of the sandeel fishery in all Scottish waters that meets as far as possible the following aims:
a) To seek effective protection of sandeel, as a contribution to the wider marine ecosystem.
b) To provide the opportunity for wider ecosystem benefits to a range of species, including commercial fish species, seabirds and marine mammals, that will also improve resilience to changes in the marine environment.
c) To complement, as far as possible, existing sandeel management measures.
Rational for Government intervention
A market failure can arise when there is over-consumption of a shared natural resource and where wider environmental impacts have not been considered. Fishing for sandeel without considering the wider ecosystem impacts, and the subsequent impacts to marine stakeholders, can result in overfishing of a key prey species relative to a more efficient outcome due to the detriment of other fishery stocks and predators. The Scottish Government therefore seeks to reduce the risk of this occurring by introducing management measures for sandeels in Scottish waters. Please see the Strategic Environmental Assessment that accompanies the consultation for more information, this can be found along with other supporting documents to this consultation.
The proposal is also aligned with the aims set out in Scotland's Fisheries Management Strategy 2020-2030:
'Where appropriate, restricting fishing activity and prohibiting fishing for species which are integral components of the marine food web, such as sandeels.' (FFM, page 10)
'We will work with our stakeholders to deliver an ecosystem-based approach to management, including considering additional protections for spawning and juvenile congregation areas and restricting fishing activity or prohibiting fishing for species which are integral components of the marine food web, such as sandeels.' (FFM, page 27)
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