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No evidence for alleged ‘benefits’ of three-mile limit

There is no evidence that a three-mile limit around Scotland’s coastline banning fishing vessels with mobile gear would improve sustainability or raise earnings in the creel fleet. That is the conclusion of a new Scottish Fishermen’s Federation paper, SFF The 3 Mile Limit History Facts, on the issue which follows a sustained campaign by environmental NGOs and some creelers.

It states that those pushing for a limit are taking a protectionist line, “keeping the grounds inside the three-mile limit open for only one type of fishing [which would] only suit those who fish that gear”.

The consequence would be that other types of fishers would be displaced, “but not on the basis of science that demonstrates this is necessary for the right protection to sensitive environments and features”.

SFF policy officer Malcolm Morrison, said: “All fishing methods, mobile and static, will impact on the environment in some way, just as navigation, tourism, offshore energy generation or even just weather do; this is a fact everyone needs to accept as a compromise in the wider concept of securing food.

“If areas or features are found to need extra protection, the SFF welcomes their inclusion in the existing management frameworks, based on objective evidence.”

Mr Morrison added that an expansion of the creel sector, as things stand, with the lack of rigorous science, would not be sensible. Markets would suffer and losing the trawl catch would necessitate a tenfold increase in creels in the water (from an estimated 1.2 million to 12 million) as well as requiring an adjustment of price differentials.

“Given the lack of verified science needed for responsible fisheries management, a lot of new research would be required to bring the database for the creel fishery up to the standard required by ICES.

“There is no basis in the evidence for the eNGOs’ sustainability claims. There are so many unknowns – stock status, exact number of creels deployed, soak time, the number of ‘ghost’ creels on the seabed.”

Mr Morrison highlighted a 2017 report into the nephrops industry in Scotland which found no evidence that creeling was more economically beneficial than trawling.

“In fact, as the same study highlighted, the diversity of the sector is well suited to the geography of Scotland.

“The SFF questions whether a three-mile limit would solve gear conflict. Co-existence is much better than exclusion. Any ban would simply move the problem just outside the limit.”

UK will climb global league table of fishing nations post-CFP

The UK would soar up the global league table if it followed Norway’s practice of landing more than eight in 10 of the fish caught in its own waters, according to a striking new study. Under the Common Fisheries Policy more than 70 per cent of the fish and shellfish landed from the UK Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is caught by non-UK vessels.

This is down to the CFP guaranteeing access to EU vessels and agreements made by the European Commission with third countries.

However, after 1st January 2021, both government and industry have made it clear that control over access to the UK EEZ will revert to the UK in line with international law, and annual negotiations will be held over fishing opportunities.

Norway, which controls its own waters, is believed to land 84 per cent of the fish and shellfish caught in its waters, while for Iceland the figure is 95 per cent.

The analysis of global catches by Dr Ian Napier, of the NAFC Marine Centre UHI, notes that if the UK followed the Norwegian scenario, it would catch more than twice what it currently does, propelling it from 25th to 13th in the global rankings.

For example, in 2018 UK vessels landed just over 700,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish. Under the Norwegian scenario, this would have been almost 1.7 million tonnes.

Simon Collins, executive officer of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association, said: “This study highlights perfectly the inequitable nature of the CFP as far as UK boats are concerned.

“Far more of the fish in our waters is taken by vessels from other countries than by our own, and nothing rankles more with our members than that.

“Nobody is saying that we would get to the Norwegian scenario overnight, but the figures show that our ambition to become a truly global player in sustainable fishing is entirely realistic.”

Dr Napier’s analysis also shows that the UK’s ranking for fish landings declined from 6th in the 1950s to 25th by the early 2000s.

This reflected both the decline in landings by UK fishing boats and the expansion by other nations of their catches. This was partly caused by loss of access in the 1970s to distant water fishing grounds, but also the advent of what would become the EU.

“It is likely that an important factor in the relative fortunes of the UK and EU fishing fleets was the UK’s entry to the (then) European Economic Community in 1973 which, under the principal of ‘equal access’, gave other EU states’ fishing boats the right to fish in what become the UK’s exclusive economic zone.

“Thus, while other EU fishing boats also lost access to ‘distant waters’ they gained access to UK waters. At the same time UK fishing boats were unable to take full advantage of the fish resources in the UK EEZ due to the conflicting ‘rights’ of other EU fishing fleets.

“This is highlighted by the fact that only 29 per cent of the fish and shellfish landed in from the UK EEZ in 2018 was caught by UK fishing boats.”