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A Strategic Framework for Inshore Fisheries in Scotland


Section 2. Inshore Fisheries in Scotland


4. Three in every four Scottish vessels fish in inshore waters. These waters around Scotland are among the most productive in the world, supporting fisheries that have long been of vital economic and cultural importance. The coastline is highly complex, with over a hundred sea lochs, six major firths, hundreds of islands and countless skerries and rocks. These features are of crucial ecological importance to commercial fisheries, providing important spawning and nursery grounds.

5. The range of habitats in Scottish inshore waters and the prevailing physical conditions lead to a wealth of marine biodiversity. There are an estimated 40,000 marine species in Scottish inshore waters including 250 species of fish and over 3000 species of shellfish. Stimulated by a growth in high quality shellfish markets over the last 30 years, the Scottish inshore fleet is almost entirely dependent on shellfish. The majority of shellfish landed is exported as premium quality live chilled product, and the main markets for these are in France, Spain, Italy and Portugal.

6. The key shellfish species for the inshore fleet is the Norway lobster, or Nephrops norvegicus, but scallops, brown crabs and lobsters are also important. Nephrops are found in muddy sediment, and the main inshore Nephrops fisheries are in the Firth of Forth, Moray Firth, North Minch, South Minch and Clyde areas. They are mainly fished by trawlers, but creeling is becoming more widespread, particularly on the west coast. Landings of Nephrops into Scotland are worth some £52 million 1.

7. Scallops (worth £17.4m 1) are found all around Scotland, and are generally fished with dredges by both local and nomadic vessels. Fishing for crab (£10.4m 1) and lobster (£3.4m 1) with creels takes place all around the coast, and crabs are also fished in some offshore areas northwest of Scotland. Trawling for squid, creeling for whelks, hydraulic dredging or diving for razorfish and surf clams, and collecting cockles by hand or mechanical means all take place in various locations around the coast of Scotland.

8. Finfish also feature in inshore landings and local Nephrops trawlers operate a small pair trawl fishery for sprat in the winter in some west coast sea lochs. In the past, larger populations of commercially exploited pelagic and demersal fish species were present in inshore areas and with careful management these species could again be feature in inshore fisheries.

9. Approximately one third of the 1600 or so under 10m vessels in Scotland is based on the west coast, another third on the east coast, and the remaining third in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles. In contrast with the demersal and pelagic sectors, the number of inshore vessels has remained relatively unchanged for the last 10 years. The vast majority of these vessels are family owned, and although difficult to quantify, the indirect and induced economic benefits of the inshore fleet undoubtedly make an important contribution to sustaining fragile rural communities.


10. While competence for sea fisheries rests at EU level, the UK has exclusive rights to fish within 6 miles. Between 6 and 12 miles, fishing by non-UK vessels is restricted to those with historic rights relating to specific fisheries and specific countries. Devolution means that Scottish Ministers are responsible for the regulation of sea fishing within the Scottish zone of British Fishery Limits. Within 12 miles the Scottish Executive has the ability to take non-discriminatory conservation measures (provided that the EU has not already legislated in this area). Sea fisheries in Scotland are regulated primarily through a restrictive licensing system, alongside other legislative and administrative tools. Fishing for stocks which are under particular pressure is also managed through a quota system. In general, the only areas where the European Commission adopts measures which have effect within 12 miles are in relation to TAC and gear regulations. This means that there is particular scope for Scotland to introduce its own management measures in the inshore.

territorial sea limits of the UK

11. There are clear links between healthy fisheries, strong communities and good governance. This document outlines the key biological, environmental, social and economic factors that have a bearing on the way that we manage inshore fisheries in Scotland. The sustainable development of inshore fisheries entails operating within the natural limits of the ecosystem to achieve the optimum and sustained economic return. This is underpinned by the provision of sound science and the fostering of a culture of compliance with regulation. The framework in the following pages outlines mechanisms for enabling industry and other stakeholders to work with scientists (from government and from other institutions) to plan the sustainable local management of inshore fisheries. The Partnership Agreement makes a commitment to enabling the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency to enforce Regulating Orders, and the relevant primary legislation is scheduled for June 2006. Cooperation between inshore fisheries groups and the SFPA will be particularly important in drawing up practical and enforceable management measures for inshore fisheries.

Relationship to other initiatives

12. The Executive is presently developing a strategy for sea fisheries in Scotland. This covers the wider sea fishing industry in Scotland. While management of the demersal and pelagic sectors in Scotland highlights a slightly different range of issues from inshore fisheries, there is commonality across all sectors which it is appropriate to address in a high level sea fisheries strategy. The strategic framework for inshore fisheries provides that strategic direction in a way that is relevant to the
inshore sector, and provides a detailed structure for implementation within the inshore.

13. The Executive is working towards a clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse marine environment. It aims to ensure that all current and future marine-related activity is properly co-ordinated in a coherent framework. A strategic framework for the marine environment is being developed which will set out a
clear vision for the marine environment. It will be complementary to the management system for inshore and sea fisheries, and will not replace or supersede them. The strategic framework for inshore fisheries will deliver the Executive's objectives for the marine environment in a way that is practical and relevant to inshore fisheries.

The inshore management regime in Scotland since 1984

14. Since 1984, inshore fisheries in Scotland have been regulated primarily through the Inshore Fishing (Scotland) Act 1984. This Act provides for Ministers to regulate fishing for sea fish in inshore waters, by way of prohibiting combinations of the following:

  • all fishing for sea fish;
  • fishing for a specified description of sea fish;
  • fishing by a specified method;
  • fishing from a specified description of fishing boat;
  • fishing from or by means of any vehicle, or any vehicle
    of a specific description; and
  • fishing by means of a specified description of equipment.

Ministers may also specify the period during which prohibitions apply, and any exceptions to any prohibition.

15. A variety of Orders have been made under this Act since 1984, introducing an assortment of local and national measures for a range of fishery management purposes. Traditionally, a review was undertaken every three years to assess whether there was a need to revoke, adjust or introduce measures. From the mid-nineties Regulating Orders, under the Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) Act 1967, were also considered as a means of enabling more local, area management of inshore shellfish fisheries. Several Orders, also under the Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) Act 1967, have been used specifically for the localised cultivation
of shellfish.


16. While this inshore management regime appeared to be fit for purpose in its early implementation, a number of limitations have emerged over the years. While there has always been regular and constructive interaction between government and industry, the decision makers were essentially distant from the process on the ground, and very reliant on ad hoc reports from industry as to the success or need for management action. The management process was largely reactive with an emphasis on prohibition arising from circumstances, rather than proactive planning to manage opportunities. Against a background of changing demands and increasing pressures on inshore fishing grounds, there was agreement between the Scottish Executive and industry that an overhaul was required.

17. The strategic review of inshore fisheries was therefore instigated in November 2002, with three key tasks. These were:

  • to assess how effective inshore fisheries management had been to date;
  • to develop a strategy for the management of inshore fisheries; and
  • to consider how we move from the present system to any future system.

18. A review of the use of the Inshore Fishing (Scotland) Act 1984 and Regulating Orders was the first action to be undertaken, and the former was the subject of a consultation exercise in 2003. Parallel discussions also took place with the sole Regulating Order grantee in Scotland, the Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO).

19. The 2003 consultation provided a great deal of helpful information about the effectiveness of the measures available under the Inshore Fishing (Scotland) Act 1984. In particular, mechanisms were assessed as to the circumstances in which they worked well, and the circumstances in which they did not. The information gathered from this exercise will be translated into guidance for selecting tools to implement measures in management plans. Discussions with the SSMO highlighted a number of difficulties with the operation of Regulating Orders, with the key challenges identified as securing ongoing financial support for operation, the enforcement of the provisions of the Order, and matching the provisions in legislation with management requirements.

20. The extent to which environmental considerations were integrated into inshore fisheries management was examined by a report commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. "Inshore Fisheries Management in Scotland: meeting the challenge of environmental integration" was published in December 2003. The key recommendations for action in the report varied in scope, but those most relevant to the strategic review process were:

  • adoption of an ecosystem-based approach to inshore fisheries management;
  • reassessment of Regulating Orders as a means of contributing to environmental integration;
  • establishment of regional inshore management committees to oversee effective and coherent regulation of inshore fisheries in relation to stock conservation, access rights and environmental integration;
  • drawing up of regional inshore management plans embracing the objectives of sound fisheries conservation, environmental integration, market planning, infrastructural development; and
  • consideration of a system of financial measures, involving both incentives and penalties, to assist the adoption of environmentally responsible fishing practices in inshore waters.

21. The Scottish Executive will formally respond to that report, now that the strategic review process is complete.

The need for a strategic framework

22. Taking into account the existing inshore fisheries management system, consideration was given to what sort of framework was needed for the future. The key elements were identified as:

  • a strategic direction for inshore fisheries against which proposals could be assessed and decisions based;
  • a mechanism to provide for more ambitious and positive forms of management;
  • a mechanism for more thorough and transparent analysis of proposals for management action;
  • a mechanism for supporting sustainable exploitation of under- or non-utilised fish species;
  • a mechanism for increasing local ownership to support the nurturing of a compliance culture;
  • a mechanism to take action where science or other information is in short supply; and
  • a mechanism to allow fisheries management to interact with other coastal initiatives.

23. The Scottish Inshore Fisheries Advisory Group (SIFAG) developed proposals for an inshore strategy and management framework that would address these issues. Their proposals were subject to consultation in the summer of 2004, and attracted significant support from across sectors. The plans in this document are a development of those proposals.