Publication - Consultation paper

Wild Fisheries Reform: a response to the report of the Wild Fisheries Review

Published: 15 May 2015
Part of:
Marine and fisheries

The paper sets out the Government’s response to the independent Wild Fisheries Review and seeks views on a number of broad policy options for the reform of salmon and freshwater fisheries management.

Stakeholders are invited to share views and contribut

Wild Fisheries Reform: a response to the report of the Wild Fisheries Review
Chapter 1 - Background

Chapter 1 - Background

10. The reform programme will consider the management of "wild fish and fisheries" - i.e. the new management system is as much about the management of species as it is the management of fisheries.

11. The purpose of Wild Fisheries Reform was set out in the Terms of Reference for the Review:

  • To create a modern, evidence-based management system for wild fisheries fit for purpose in the 21st century and capable of responding to our changing environment; and
  • To manage, conserve and develop Scotland's wild fisheries to maximise the sustainable benefit of our wild fish resources to the country as a whole and particularly to rural areas.

12. The WFR report contains 53 recommendations. Some of these relate to legislative change and the need to establish the new management system and structures in law. However, reformed structures are only part of the equation. There is considerable work to be taken forward administratively and in tandem to deliver a rounded framework for fishery management.

13. In considering the design of a new management system it is important to have regard to the wider landscape and the main issues with the current framework. In addition, there are other issues of relevance to the reform programme such as the conservation obligations for certain species, modern expectations for management of one of Scotland's valuable natural assets and the nature of ownership of fish and fishing rights.

14. This paper does not seek to provide detailed commentary on what the new system will or should look like. Considerable work is needed, in partnership with stakeholders, to develop detailed proposals and these will be subject to further consultation before the end of the parliamentary session. The purpose of this stage of the process is to set out the fundamental management principles that we consider should guide development and design of the new system at all levels, and to seek views on broad options for taking forward the main themes identified in the WFR report.

15. As stated previously, we have committed to consult on detailed propositions for the structure of the new system. We will do so alongside the draft legislation which would establish the new management system before the end of the current parliamentary session. We will work closely and constructively with interested parties throughout the whole process.

Issues with the existing framework

16. There have been a number of reviews of management conducted over the last 50 years and there has been a high degree of consistency in the recommended actions. While there have been incremental adjustments to the management framework over the years coupled by organisational changes on the ground led by the sector, there remain structural weaknesses in the system in its entirety. The WFR recommended change to address such weaknesses in order to broaden the focus to include all fisheries species, ensure that management is scientifically sound and to strengthen democratic accountability.

Conservation obligations

17. Certain of the fish species present in Scottish waters (and their habitats) are protected under international and European law. Appropriate management and conservation of these species is therefore not merely a matter of good husbandry but a legal requirement. Atlantic Salmon are protected under the Habitats Directive and via the NASCO Convention; other species have similar levels of protection, notably lamprey and eels. Scottish Ministers have responsibility for meeting these conservation obligations, and the requirement to do so and to demonstrate such must similarly guide the development of the new wild fisheries management framework. The system must also be capable of responding to potential future changes in conservation policy and legislation.

Management of a public resource

18. While rights to fish are held as property rights, or ancillary rights, the fish themselves are a public resource and belong to no-one until they are caught. The Scottish Government has an important role in terms of ensuring the public resource is managed appropriately on behalf of the people of Scotland. The Government is accountable for the management of wild fisheries in Scotland, including fulfilment of international and EU obligations, national policy and ensuring the effectiveness of the system as a whole to deliver fishery management. This needs to be recognised within the new system and mechanisms included to ensure that, in a decentralised system, there is democratic and congruent accountability.

Fishing rights

19. Fishing rights for some species are held as private property rights separate from land while in other cases they form part of a land holding. This unique pattern of ownership means there are large numbers of proprietors in Scotland. In some cases more than one person may hold the rights to fish in certain locations. The roles and responsibilities of individual proprietors will need to be considered carefully as part of the design of the new system. The WFR report did not recommend change to the pattern of ownership of fishing rights in Scotland, noting that what is important is the sustainable management of fish and fisheries to optimise public value. In common with the need to ensure democratic accountability, we also recognise the need for a decentralised and locally empowered system to ensure appropriate accountability at a local level. We understand the important role that fishery proprietors play in fishery management and recognise the wish for the role of proprietors to be afforded appropriate weight.


20. As the WFR report recognises, there are some real strengths inherent in our current management arrangements. Therefore, in considering how to address the issues highlighted above, we recognise the importance of retaining a number of key elements of the existing system and build on their strengths; notably the focus on locally-led delivery of fishery management and harnessing the knowledge and enthusiasm of those working within the field. We understand the need to maintain momentum and investment in the day to day management of fisheries throughout the reform programme. We also wish to ensure the retention of key people and expertise within the sector, as we recognise that such expertise will form the foundation of the future management structures. These considerations have similarly informed the fundamental principles set out in Chapter 2.