Scotland's National Marine Plan

This Plan covers the management of both Scottish inshore waters (out to 12 nautical miles) and offshore

waters (12 to 200 nautical miles). It also applies to the exercise of both reserved and

devolved functions.

6. Sea Fisheries

Objectives and policies for this sector should be read subject to those set out in Chapters 3 and 4 of this Plan. It is recognised that not all of the objectives can necessarily be achieved directly through the marine planning system, but they are considered important context for planning and decision making.



Economic Marine Ecosystem

Fish stocks are harvested sustainably (both environmentally and economically) leading to exploitation of Scotland's commercial fish stocks at Maximum Sustainable Yield and with increased long-term stability.



A fishing fleet which is seen as an exemplar in global sustainable fishing practices and is confident in securing a long-term income from the available sustainable fishing opportunities across all sectors.



The sea fisheries industry can:

  • Optimise annual quota opportunities across Scotland's fish stocks
  • Optimise the sustainable harvesting of wild fish
  • Optimise the value of its product, both on first landing and through the supply chain


Economic Social

Communities where fishing is a viable career option and value is added throughout the supply chain maximising the contribution fisheries makes to Scotland.


Economic Social Marine Ecosystem

Management of fisheries on a regional sea-basin eco-system basis [60] with appropriate stakeholders empowered in the decision-making process and, where appropriate, eco-system-based management of inshore fisheries at local level, on the basis of participative management with interested stakeholders and involving both marine planning partnerships and Inshore Fisheries Groups.


Economic Marine Ecosystem Climate Change

Fisheries managed in line with international and national environmental priorities.


Economic Social Marine Ecosystem

An evidence-based approach to fisheries management which is underpinned by a responsible use of sound science and is supported by the whole sector.


Economic Marine Ecosystem

Tackle discarding through the avoidance of unwanted catches and the implementation of the EU's obligation to land all catches of quota stocks in a way which is workable and sensitive to the impacts on fishing practices both offshore and onshore.


Economic Marine Ecosystem

Management of removals rather than landings, where necessary, through fully documented fisheries.

Key references

Common Fisheries Policy

Scotland's Marine Atlas: Information for the National Marine Plan.

Chapter 5: Productive / Fishing. Pages 146-149

National Marine Plan interactive ( NMPi). Productive/ Fishing section.

Part 1: Background and Context

6.1 Fishing is a long established, and the most widespread, human activity in our waters.

6.2 The Scottish Government recognises the social, cultural and economic importance of fishing activity to many of Scotland's communities and wishes to see the long history of fishing in Scottish waters continue.

6.3 The potential environmental impacts of fishing are also recognised, with Scotland's Marine Atlas: Information for the National Marine Plan highlighting fishing pressure and associated impacts on the seabed and species, as widespread and significant.

6.4 A large number of commercial sea fish stocks are regulated by the EU's Common Fisheries Policy. The management of fishing is also affected by EU environmental legislation which places obligations on Scotland in relation to fisheries management. Within the Scottish fisheries zone the Scottish Government has the ability to put in place management measures to help maintain stock sustainability.

6.5 The establishment of Inshore Fisheries Groups [61] , and the emerging development of Marine Planning Partnerships, bring a more localised perspective to fisheries management, particularly for the inshore fleet. As a general principle the Scottish Government is in favour of moving decision-making closer to the people affected by those decisions. We envisage that Marine Planning Partnerships, informed by the work of Inshore Fisheries Groups and working in partnership with Local Authorities, could form a platform for moving to a more regional model of marine management.

6.6 The development of regional plans will take account of this Plan and national priorities for which Marine Scotland will remain responsible. In relation to fisheries, this interaction between regional and national decision-making will be particularly important given the highly mobile nature of parts of the fishing fleet and the need to consider access to fishing grounds for vessels from outwith the local area.

6.7 The Scottish fishing fleet can be split into four broad sectors:

  • The pelagic fleet which mainly targets herring and mackerel is comprised of a relatively small number of large vessels. This fleet fishes seasonally through a wide range of sea areas as they follow the highly migratory patterns of pelagic species, from the central North Sea in the summer months before moving north towards Shetland and then travelling west to follow the Gulf Stream to the South of Ireland.
  • The demersal or whitefish fleet (comprising a larger number of smaller vessels) targets bottom-dwelling fish in two main types of fishery - round fish such as cod, whiting, haddock and saithe and ground fish such as monkfish and megrim. These vessels tend to operate in the more northerly grounds of the North Sea and west coast of Scotland, fishing in deeper water and following the continental shelf edges.
  • The mixed demersal and shellfish fleet is made up of whitefish boats which move between whitefish and Nephrops (also known as langoustine) fisheries. These vessels, whilst in many cases capable of travelling further afield, tend to concentrate their main efforts in the central North Sea in an area known as the Fladen Ground with little overlap between them and the presence of larger whitefish vessels. There is also a fleet of these vessels that fish a variety of grounds on the West coast of Scotland from the North Minch south towards the Clyde and in offshore areas such as the Stanton Banks.
  • The shellfish fleet specialises in stocks such as scallops, Nephrops and crab and lobster and tends to fish inshore (the Scottish inshore fleet is almost completely dependent on shellfish). These smaller, more numerous vessels, which are generally under 10 metres in length, fish predominately inshore waters inside 6 nautical miles, although some larger vessels and particularly scallop vessels operate to 12 nautical miles and beyond. Activity is spread along the coast line of Scotland but tends to be concentrated more on the West coast where the local geography provides better natural conditions for the safe operation of these small vessels.

6.8 There are also seasonal inter-tidal fisheries, such as cockle fisheries, and small scale hand diving fisheries in some areas.

6.9 From a Scottish fishing fleet of just over 2,020 licensed vessels in 2013, more than a quarter were over 10 metres, with approximately 1500 of the vessels fishing in the inshore area of 0-6 nautical miles predominantly using static gear. In total, the combined fleet employed 4,992 fishermen. There can be considerable switching by vessels between fishing gear types, target stocks and fishing grounds as fishers seek to optimise the fluctuating fishing opportunities available to them from year to year.

6.10 As well as the Scottish fleet, some 12 non-Scottish fleets fish in the Scottish fishing zone, which holds a particularly rich mixed fishery.

6.11 Overall, since 2000, fishing activity has been reduced significantly in order to conserve stocks. The quantity of whitefish and pelagic fish landed has decreased, while there has been a slight increase in shellfish catches. These trends are the result generally of the availability of stocks and specific measures such as the cod recovery programme and other conservation measures.

6.12 The health of key commercial stocks varies across regions and sectors, and from year to year, as does the availability of scientific data. The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas ( ICES) [62] carries out assessments for most of Scotland's major commercial sea fisheries stocks on an annual basis [63] . Fisheries management initiatives and the response of the fishing fleet have resulted in fish mortality rates moving towards (and in certain cases reaching) sustainable levels, with a view to being able to take smaller percentages from larger stocks. However, for some stocks, particularly West of Scotland cod, there has been little sign of recovery despite significant reductions in fishing effort in key fleets.

Part 2: Key issues for marine planning


6.13 Scotland is one of the key fishing nations of Europe and has access to extensive and productive wild capture fisheries all around our coasts and islands. Map 5 on page 47 shows landings by all vessels in Scottish ports by district in 2013.

6.14 Scottish fishing vessels landed 367 thousand tonnes of fish in 2013 with a first sale value of £430 million. The value of the sector has continued to grow over time, even as fishing activity has decreased for stock conservation purposes. The overall revenue figure for 2013 was broken down by sector as follows:

  • Pelagic landings - £153 million
  • Demersal landings - £140 million
  • Shellfish landings - £137 million

6.15 Scottish seafood is enjoyed the world over with most of the fish caught in Scotland's seas being exported while most fish eaten within Scotland is imported.

6.16 In recent years the size of the fleet has reduced, reflecting a combination of technological advances and diminishing fishing opportunities. Employment within the sector has also reduced. However, there has also been an increase in efficiency and productivity in some sectors. The contribution of sea fishing remains important to many communities around the coasts and islands, and provides almost 5,000 jobs directly and a similar number in fish processing.

6.17 The Government Economic Strategy has defined Food and Drink, including fisheries, as a growth sector. This recognises the importance of the industry to Scotland's economy and that Scotland's sea fisheries have a healthy and vibrant future providing a sustainable resource for future generations.

6.18 To allow it to fulfil its potential to contribute to the Food and Drink sector, it is important that fishing's interactions with other marine sectors and interests are managed in a transparent way, creating greater certainty in the overall business environment. It is also important that the sustainability of fishing activity is respected in marine development and that the necessary infrastructure to support the fishing industry is protected where possible.

6.19 Inshore commercial fishing (especially with static gear such as creels) is often carried out from small vessels based in village ports in very remote, rural communities. It is therefore important to be sensitive to potential socio-economic impacts not only on fishermen themselves but also on these fragile communities ( e.g. negative effects on local services and exacerbating risks of depopulation).

Map 5 Quantity of Landings into Scotland by all Vessels by District (tonnes): 2013


6.20 Given its widespread nature, fishing activity has the potential to interact significantly with a number of other sectors. Fishing activity is often seasonal and given the dynamic and mobile nature of many fisheries, it is often very difficult to accurately predict precisely where activity will take place from year to year.

6.21 There is opportunity for fishing to interact positively with other sectors - for example, as a provider of income for ports and harbours. The fishing industry also has a history of working constructively with the oil and gas sector to achieve mutual benefits, despite the potential competition for marine space. Such positive co-operation should be encouraged where possible.

6.22 There are some key emerging issues concerning the interactions between the fishing industry and other interests which should be borne in mind in any proposed marine development and factored into marine planning processes.

Interactions with new physical development and associated activity

6.23 Energy developments can displace fishing. The cabling arrays associated with energy and telecoms developments, and other physical infrastructure associated with development, have the potential for short-term displacement of fishing activity during the installation phase.

6.24 There is also potential for damage to occur to both infrastructure and fishing equipment as a result of interactions, with obvious safety implications. New developments should take into account the intensity of fishing activity in the proposed development area and any likely displacement activity the development and associated activity could precipitate, with resultant increased pressure on remaining, often adjacent, fishing grounds.

6.25 There may be potential for some infrastructure or development areas to act as nursery grounds for fish and, if appropriately protected, these may lead to an increase in fish stocks in the surrounding areas. This possibility should be considered on a case by case basis.

6.26 Where relevant, Fisheries Liaison with Offshore Wind and Wet renewables ( FLOWW) Best Practice Guidance for Offshore Renewables Developments: Recommendations for Fisheries Liaison [64] should be followed.

Interactions with marine conservation initiatives

6.27 Designated areas for nature conservation or culture heritage purposes may impact on fishing activity depending on the nature of the designation, the associated management measures, and the type of fishing that takes place in the area concerned.

6.28 Conservation areas can also help to underpin sustainable fishing by protecting habitats of value to commercial species' life cycles, supporting the recovery of protected species and serving to enrich the biodiversity of an area. Designated areas may, for example, act as nursery or spawning grounds for fish which could improve the state of stocks in the surrounding areas [65] .

Interactions within the industry

6.29 As various fishermen may wish to fish in the same waters, there can be competitive interaction between and within different industry sectors. Such conflicts have been known to become heated and longstanding and can be exacerbated where the same species, such as nephrops, is being targeted by both mobile and static gear operators. To help manage these interactions local voluntary codes of conduct have been designed in attempts to achieve harmonious co-existence and fair opportunities for both mobile and static gear sectors. Codes also exist in the static gear sector to try to avoid, or enable resolution of, conflict within that sector.

6.30 Given the range of these interactions and the vested interests involved it is essential that all appropriate fishermen's associations are consulted by planners and decision makers to ensure decisions are based on the most complete information. Attention should also be paid to the status and verification of all information used to inform decisions.

Interactions with marine recreation users

6.31 There may be difficult interactions between static gear fishermen and yachters, as creel gear can snag, disable and endanger pleasure craft.

6.32 There can also be competitive interactions between fishing and recreational sea angling, including concerns from anglers that mobile fishing is affecting stock levels and causing a lack of larger specimens of the species targeted by anglers.

Effects of interaction - displacement

6.33 Displacement of fishing activity can occur as a result of: interactions with other marine activities (whether commercial or conservation based); closing areas to fishing; or restricting fishing vessels' access to areas. Displacement of fishing effort has a number of features that require careful consideration.

6.34 Displaced effort may move to areas that are already fished but where the fishing pressure is then greater than otherwise would have been the case. This could be a concern if this results in a greater impact on recovery of fish stocks or increased pressure on fish stocks or damage to the environment.

6.35 Displaced effort may also impact on grounds that previously have not experienced any fishing effort. These areas can be readily identified in the offshore fisheries by vessel monitoring systems. The displaced activity may have a new and unknown environmental impact on these areas.

6.36 There may be socio-economic effects associated with displacement, such as new grounds being less profitable for fishermen; beyond the capacity of some vessels; and/or unable to provide the mix of species on which current business models rely. Displacement may also cause crowding of fishing effort in remaining established fishing areas, or increased fuel costs arising from having to travel further and make fishing less economically sustainable.

6.37 While it is preferable not to restrict access to individual fishing grounds, displacement may have some positive environmental and socio-economic impacts. For example, closed areas may benefit nursery grounds and protect environmental features.


Impact of fishing

6.38 Fishing has a more geographically widespread impact on the marine environment than other activities however, the degree of impact depends on the type of fishing gear used and the nature and sensitivity of species and habitats affected.

6.39 Commercial fishing inevitably impacts on marine productivity and biodiversity. The degree of impact is related to natural eco-system dynamics (such as the fecundity of each fish stock from year to year), the amount of fishing taking place, the efficiency and selectivity of fishing gear (that is, the extent to which gear avoids catching non-target/vulnerable fish), and the approaches taken by fishers to targeting species. Commercial fisheries exert a significant pressure on target and non-target fish populations, both directly through fishery removals, and indirectly by removing predators, prey, competitors and essential habitats. This can potentially impact on other species by altering the balance of processes in the food web.

6.40 It is inevitable, even in the most selective fisheries, that some species will be caught unintentionally. Some of this unwanted catch [66] can be sold or returned back to the sea unharmed, but currently much of it is discarded, dead, into the sea, which is an inefficient and wasteful use of the resource. A key priority of the Scottish Government is to eliminate unwanted catch and this may require spatial management of fishing patterns, such as avoidance of sea areas where there is a significantly greater risk of catching unwanted fish.

6.41 Scallop dredging is recognised as having the most significant impact on localised seabed habitats within Scotland's waters. Fishing using demersal mobile gear can also adversely affect the seabed, causing damage to benthic features and habitats. There is also the potential for loss or damage to heritage assets although fishers avoid these where possible.

Spatial management measures in place [67]

6.42 A number of sea areas are already closed to fishing to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems, such as cold water corals on the Rockall Bank and Darwin Mounds. In addition fisheries in some areas are limited or prevented altogether in order to protect breeding seabird populations. An example of this is the Wee Bankie closure in the Firth of Forth. Other restrictions include those operating in Loch Creran and the Firth of Lorn. In addition, local spatial measures have been applied in Shetland's inshore waters through the Regulating Order operated by the Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation ( SSMO).

6.43 Many of these measures are managed at an EU level or through the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission ( NEAFC). National measures can be put in place by Scottish Ministers but outside the 6 mile zone other EU Member States are not obliged to observe these closures.

6.44 Real Time Closures are areas of sea that are instantly closed to fishing for short periods of time in order to avoid concentrations of juvenile and mature fish that are either below minimum landing size or would take vessels beyond their quotas [68] .

Impact of environmental change on fish stocks

6.45 Fish stock abundance and distribution are affected by a number of environmental factors including salinity, temperature, algae production and sediment type. In addition, these and other factors impact on food availability for fish - in particular changes in plankton are equally sensitive to the wide range of environmental and climatic changes. Industrial developments can also create pressures on fish stocks. These include endocrine-disrupting substances which pass through sewage works such as pesticides, plastics manufacturing and extraction of sand and gravel.

6.46 A variety of benthic habitats support important demersal fisheries providing essential habitats and nursery, feeding and recruitment areas for fish species. Nephrops also rely on a specific muddy habitat to construct burrows. Additionally, a healthy benthic community may be able to support the recovery of impacted habitats in other areas of the sea and ecosystem resilience will be an important asset in the face of climate change.


6.47 Climate change has the potential to have significant impacts on fish stocks and fishing activities. Changes in sea temperature and other climate induced environmental factors have been shown to alter fish community structure through changes in distribution, migration, recruitment and growth. More frequent adverse weather conditions may also lead to offshore vessels being displaced to more sheltered inshore areas, as well as placing additional limits on inshore vessels. Furthermore, fishermen may require greater flexibility to move between fishing grounds to respond to the impact of climate change on the distribution of stocks. These changes will lead to both risks and opportunities for Scottish fishermen and it is important to manage the risks responsively and to exploit new opportunities sustainably.

6.48 Improving knowledge of the impacts of climate change on fish stocks and their ecosystems is an important objective. Key commercial fish stocks are surveyed and assessed on an annual basis which should help improve understanding of changes in ecosystems, location or migratory patterns. Improving the health of stocks and ecosystem resilience is also a priority action that will improve the ability of fisheries to respond to climate change. The move towards fishing at maximum sustainable yield ( MSY) will contribute to this objective.

6.49 The fishing sector also needs to consider its contribution to climate change and how it can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with government commitments. There has been little research on the carbon footprint of the Scottish fishing industry, however, there are a number of actions that can be taken to reduce emissions, including reduced fuel use through more efficient engines and ship design; reduced steaming speed to improve fuel efficiency; changes to fishing techniques; and use of alternative low carbon fuels. Many of these improvements will provide economic and environmental benefits through the reduced use of fuel, but attention should also be paid to the possibility of such improvements leading to increased fishing effort and greater overall carbon use.

6.50 At the same time fish is recognised as an important source of sustainable protein and essential nutrients, often caught with lower associated carbon emissions than the rearing of meat.

Part 3: Marine planning policies

Economic Social Marine EcosystemFISHERIES 1: Taking account of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, Habitats Directive, Birds Directive and Marine Strategy Framework Directive, marine planners and decision makers should aim to ensure:

  • Existing fishing opportunities and activities are safeguarded wherever possible.
  • An eco-system based approach to the management of fishing which ensures the sustainability of fish stocks and avoids damage to fragile habitats.
  • Protection for vulnerable stocks (in particular for juvenile and spawning stocks through continuation of sea area closures where appropriate).
  • Improved protection of the seabed and historical and archaeological remains requiring protection through effective identification of high-risk areas and management measures to mitigate the impacts of fishing, where appropriate.
  • That other sectors take into account the need to protect fish stocks and sustain healthy fisheries for both economic and conservation reasons.
  • Delivery of Scotland's international commitments in fisheries, including the ban on discards.
  • Mechanisms for managing conflicts between fishermen and/or between the fishing sector and other users of the marine environment.

Economic Social Marine Ecosystem Climate ChangeFISHERIES 2: The following key factors should be taken into account when deciding on uses of the marine environment and the potential impact on fishing:

  • The cultural and economic importance of fishing, in particular to vulnerable coastal communities.
  • The potential impact (positive and negative) of marine developments on the sustainability of fish and shellfish stocks and resultant fishing opportunities in any given area.
  • The environmental impact on fishing grounds (such as nursery, spawning areas), commercially fished species, habitats and species more generally.
  • The potential effect of displacement on: fish stocks; the wider environment; use of fuel; socio-economic costs to fishers and their communities and other marine users.

Economic SocialFISHERIES 3: Where existing fishing opportunities or activity cannot be safeguarded, a Fisheries Management and Mitigation Strategy should be prepared by the proposer, involving full engagement with local fishing interests (and other interests as appropriate) in the development of the Strategy. All efforts should be made to agree the Strategy with those interests. Those interests should also undertake to engage with the proposer and provide transparent and accurate information and data to help complete the Strategy. The Strategy should be drawn up as part of the discharge of conditions of permissions granted.

The content of the Strategy should be relevant to the particular circumstances and could include:

  • An assessment of the potential impact of the development or use on the affected fishery or fisheries, both in socio-economic terms and in terms of environmental sustainability.
  • A recognition that the disruption to existing fishing opportunities/activity should be minimised as far as possible.
  • Reasonable measures to mitigate any constraints which the proposed development or use may place on existing or proposed fishing activity.
  • Reasonable measures to mitigate any potential impacts on sustainability of fish stocks ( e.g. impacts on spawning grounds or areas of fish or shellfish abundance) and any socio-economic impacts.

Where it does not prove possible to agree the Strategy with all interests, the reasons for any divergence of views between the parties should be fully explained in the Strategy and dissenting views should be given a platform within the Strategy to make their case.

Economic SocialFISHERIES 4: Ports and harbours should seek to engage with fishing and other relevant stakeholders at an early stage to discuss any changes in infrastructure that may affect them. Any port or harbour developments should take account of the needs of the dependent fishing fleets with a view to avoiding commercial harm where possible. Where a port or harbour has reached a minimum level of infrastructure required to support a viable fishing fleet, there should be a presumption in favour of maintaining this infrastructure, provided there is an on-going requirement for it to remain in place and that it continues to be fit for purpose.

Economic SocialFISHERIES 5: Inshore Fisheries Groups ( IFGs) should work with all local stakeholders with an interest to agree joint fisheries management measures. These measures should inform and reflect the objectives of regional marine plans. <applies to inshore waters>

Regional policy: Regional marine plans should consider:

  • Whether they require to undertake further work on any data gaps in relation to fishing activity within their region.
  • The potential socio-economic impacts for the local fishing industry - and parts of the industry using their area - of any proposed activity or conservation measure.
  • How to include local Inshore Fisheries Groups as a key part of their planning process.
  • The potential consequences and impacts for other marine regions; and for offshore regions of their approach to planning for fisheries.
  • Taking account of on-going local initiatives, such as Clyde 2020, which may be relevant to their work.

Part 4: The future

6.51 Fishing will continue to be a commercial activity in Scottish waters to meet the on-going and increasing demand for safe, sustainable food from the sea. The Scottish Government aspires to support the fishing industry to optimise fish quota opportunities year on year and to increase value both in landings and the processed product through improved marketing and supply chain efficiency. Fishing will continue to play an important economic, social and cultural role, in particular for coastal communities. The exploitation of fisheries will continue to have an impact on marine ecosystems, habitats, biodiversity, production and the historic environment. It is also likely that the fishing industry will have increasing interactions with other marine users. The challenge will be to maintain fish stocks for future generations and provide an environment which enables harmonious co-existence between fishing and other users and activities.

6.52 The reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, agreed in 2013, will significantly impact on management of fisheries beyond 12 nautical miles, including a discard ban for a number of key stocks, as well as a commitment to reach Maximum Sustainable Yield by 2020 with an increasing focus on eco-system based management for the offshore marine environment. In addition there will now be a shift to taking strategic management decisions for fisheries on a more regionalised (sea-basin) basis.

6.53 Moving towards a system of monitoring total removals from the sea, reducing unwanted catches and minimising discards, will be key priorities for fisheries management over coming years. These may lead to changes in spatial fishing patterns and entail significant developments in the scientific evidence base for managing fisheries.

6.54 The size of the offshore and inshore fleets has gradually reduced over the last 10-15 years. While this trend may continue for the next few years, it may stabilise within the next five years, at least in the offshore fleet, as the majority of fish stocks are fished at MSY. Maintaining this lower rate of removal of fish should gradually lead to improvements in stock biomass and yields of some species may well rise. Reduced fish mortality rates are, however, subject to technological developments in the size and efficiency of vessels which are likely to drive business decisions in the industry and which are difficult to predict. They are also subject to much larger changes in biology over which there is no control.

6.55 With regard to the inshore sector, spatial management in future years will become part of regional marine planning, for which Inshore Fisheries Groups will provide fisheries management input. Management of inshore fisheries over the next few years will focus increasingly on eco-system approaches to sustainable fisheries underpinned by improved scientific assessments on the state of the fish and shellfish stocks. This will lead to an increased focus on interactions within fisheries (between mobile and static fishing sectors, wild fisheries and farmed fisheries) and between fisheries and other activities (such as spatial conservation initiatives, recreation and renewables). In particular, the development of Marine Protection Areas and conservation areas designated under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives will play a prominent role in inshore fisheries management in years to come.

6.56 The effects of climate change will also need to be monitored and addressed, both to minimise the risks and to take advantage of any new opportunities on a sustainable basis.


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