Independent Inquiry makes key recommendations for the Sustainable Future of the Scottish Fishing Industry

Independent Inquiry makes key recommendations for the Sustainable Future of the Scottish Fishing Industry

A secure and sustainable future for the Scottish Fishing Industry is achievable, but not without a long-term view being taken and important changes being made both to policy and management. Continued social and economic hardship for parts of the industry and dependent communities is unfortunately inevitable, at least until stocks can be restored to sustainable levels. This is the view of the independent expert committee set up by The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) in the first major investigation undertaken into the future of this industry in Scotland. The report, which is published today, Thursday 11 March, makes 35 key recommendations covering the operation of the Common Fisheries Policy, the science of fish stock assessment and the management of fisheries policy. It also outlines measures to help the industry and the fishery dependent communities.

Scotland has about 60 per cent of the United Kingdom’s sea fishing industry and the preponderant part of the pelagic and whitefish sectors. Much of the industry is profitable, but the whitefish sector, which is concentrated in the North East and in Shetland, is in serious trouble. The Common Fisheries Policy has failed to protect adequately important species of whitefish stock and as a result measures now having to be imposed threaten the livelihoods of many in Scotland’s fishing communities. This prompted the Council of The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) to launch its independent Inquiry. It was chaired by the distinguished biologist, Sir David Smith FRS, FRSE and its members covered expertise in fisheries and environmental science, statistical modelling, economics and business.

The Inquiry received a huge volume of written and oral evidence from Scotland and from other countries; it consulted widely and visited the main fishery dependent areas in Scotland as well as the International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and the European Commission. It finds that European scientists, fishermen and policy makers share responsibility for the grave difficulties being experienced by the whitefish sector. Had cod stocks, for example, been maintained with fishing mortality no higher than 1960s levels, the extra catch could now be worth some £80-100 million a year to the Scottish industry. The report’s recommendations cover changes to reduce centralisation and give greater involvement to the industry in the decision-making process, improvements to the science of stock assessment, the eventual abolition of catch quotas for the whitefish sector and their replacement with a system of effort control coupled with closed areas and gear regulations. It urges the industry to make the most of the opportunities presented by the new Regional Advisory Committees (RACs) so that, if successful, these can be given management responsibility. A full list of the Committee’s recommendations follows below:

Chairman of the Independent Inquiry Committee, Professor Sir David Smith, FRS, FRSE said:

The Committee and I strongly believe that there is a sustainable and profitable future for the Scottish fishing industry, but we recognise that securing this will involve the taking of difficult decisions in the short-term. European scientists, fishermen and policy-makers share responsibility for the grave difficulties being experienced by the whitefish sector. Our forward-looking Report makes key recommendations which seek to offer solutions for an industry so important to Scotland.

List of Recommendations:

The Origins of the Common Fisheries Policy

We recommend that:

1     Ministers endeavour to have the existing 12 mile limits made permanent instead of being subject to renewal every ten years. (para. 2.10)

2     Ministers review the arrangements for use of the Structural Funds in order to make maximum use of FIFG and the other Funds for the economic diversification of fisheries dependent areas. (para. 2.31)

3     Ministers should reconsider their position over the EU’s exclusive competence for conservation of marine biological resources, with a view to getting this deleted from the proposed EU constitution so that the principle of subsidiarity may apply to fisheries, as it does to other matters. (para. 2.44)

Economic and Social Impact

We recommend that:

4     Ministers and the financial institutions should seek to negotiate an arrangement for debt rescheduling and restructuring under which the demersal fleet is granted a debt service moratorium for an agreed period. (para. 3.69)

5     Ministers and the financial institutions should examine the case for establishing a Fishing Industry Finance Corporation. (para. 3.69)

6     The Scottish Executive and the Scottish fishing industry should jointly examine the industry’s ownership structure to establish whether a regrouping into a corporate structure would strengthen its ability to compete in the future. (para. 3.69)

7     The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) and other representative bodies in the catching industry should consider how they can most effectively come together to discuss issues of stock conservation with government scientists and negotiate effectively on management and regulatory issues. (para. 3.69)

8     Consideration should be given to early retirement schemes for fishermen wishing to leave the industry and to resettlement grants, both of which are eligible for FIFG funding; and that the resources of Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Scottish Enterprise network as well as the EU Structural Funds be used to the maximum extent possible to help retraining and the promotion of new small business in fisheries dependent areas. (para. 3.69)

9     The Scottish Processing and Marketing Scheme should be enhanced and greater effort put behind broadening the scope of traceability and branding. (para. 3.88)
The Science of Stock Assessment and its Role in Fisheries Management

We recommend that:

10     ICES should consider new statistical approaches as alternatives to VPA for management of the fisheries, particularly methods in which uncertainty (and hence business risk) can be quantified. (para. 4.24)

11      Fisheries Research Services (FRS) should begin to develop methods for the use of commercial vessels to aid fishery surveys and also how accurate recording of commercial catches can best be achieved. (para. 4.38)

12     ICES should convene a forum to review IBTS design, fishing gear and methodology. Industry advice should be sought, especially with respect to gear improvement, trawl operation and how best to sample hard ground. Greater standardisation across nations should be pursued. Assuming new procedures are adopted, calibration should be addressed. (para. 4.38)

13     The EU manage demersal fish stocks so that fishing mortality is much lower than over the past 15 years, aiming for a value of fishing mortality (F<0.4), corresponding to removal of less than one third of the stock each year.(para. 4.82)

14     ICES recommendations should aim to promote and sustain recruitment so that there is a good spread of age classes of females up to age 5 years old and over in demersal stocks. (para. 4.82)

15     The current TAC of 27,300t for cod in the North Sea should be used as the starting point for a recovery programme and should be fixed until Bpa (the safe minimum spawning stock biomass) of 150,000t is attained. (para. 4.82)

16     The by-catch of cod in other fisheries should be minimised by ensuring the use of species selective fishing gears; TACs should be supplemented by limits on effort and designation of closed areas. (para. 4.82)

17     Demersal stocks should be managed as a mixed fishery with a single overall limit on effort and no discarding, coupled with measures such as selective gears, protected areas and real-time temporary closures to prevent over-exploitation of individual species and immature fish. After the cod recovery programme, TACs should be retained only to guide regulation of effort and to ensure relative stability. (para. 4.82)

18      Ministers should aim to restore haddock landings from the North Sea to the long-term average values of 250,000t, given the importance of this stock to Scottish demersal fisheries. (para. 4.88)

19      Fisheries Research Services (FRS) and ICES should urgently seek a valid method for assessing whiting in the North Sea and the EU Commission should initiate a whiting recovery programme. (para. 4.93)

20     Monkfish around Scotland should be managed through limitations on demersal sector effort rather than catch quotas. (para. 4.96)

21     The EU Commission and Scottish Ministers should ensure that Nephrops fishermen adopt selective gears that do not capture whitefish. Management should be vigilant against diversion of effort from the whitefish sector into Nephrops.(para. 4.101)

22     The EU Commission should ensure the industrial fishery TAC should be decreased below the recent reported landings and take account of interannual variation in abundance of sandeels (para. 4.117)

23     FRS should direct research at the potential ecosystem effects of the fishery. (para. 4.117)

24     The EU Commission should recognise the vulnerability of deep-sea species and seek to regulate deep-sea fisheries by effort control, as recommended by the ICES Advisory Committee on Fishery Management (ACFM). (para. 4.121)

Fisheries and the Environment

We recommend that:

25     The Scottish Executive should consider some form of Environmental Impact Assessment for new ventures by the fishing industry. (para. 5.6)

26     The Scottish Executive and the relevant funding bodies should provide increased investment in the science required to understand marine ecosystem and to develop realistic models of the marine ecosystem. (para. 5.6)

27     The Scottish Executive should ensure that forums (e.g. RACs and inshore management committees) established for regional fisheries management should be tasked with helping to implement environmental policy relevant to their region. This would include the establishment of marine protected areas. (para. 5.12)

The Role of Aquaculture

We recommend that:

28     Further research should be carried out into the substitution of fish oil in farmed fish diets with plant oil as a means of promoting sustainability of industrial fisheries. (para. 6.29)

29     Scottish Ministers should consider how research with ‘new species’ such as cod can be supported to enable the diversification of Scottish aquaculture production. (para. 6.29)

Managing Scotland’s Fisheries for Sustainable Development

We recommend that:

30     Ministers should press the EU Commission to set a timescale for a review of the RACs so that transfer of some management responsibilities to them can be considered. The fishing industry should seize the opportunities presented by RACs to demonstrate a responsible role in fisheries management. (para. 7.18)

31     The EU Commission should replace the present system of catch quotas for the demersal sector and Nephrops trawl fisheries with effort control (days at sea) and closed areas. The present system of catch quotas would, however, continue for the pelagic sector. (para. 7.62)

32     The EU Commission should phase in this new system over the lifetime of the cod recovery plan; during this time the current system of catch quotas should continue alongside the evolving effort control system. Thereafter TACs should be set only as guidelines for these sectors. (para. 7.62)

33     The UK fisheries departments, in collaboration with the fishing industries, should undertake a wide-ranging review of the existing system of quota management having regard to the state’s responsibilities for the conservation and management of the fisheries, on the one hand, and the financial viability of the industry, on the other. (para. 7.54)

34     Scottish Ministers should establish inshore management committees on a local scale, led by the industry, and should follow an integrated approach to fisheries and the environment. (para. 7.70)

35     Scottish Ministers should seek to bridge the gulf between fishermen and scientists and should consider our alternative proposals for restructuring the institutional arrangements for fisheries management as set out in Chapter 7. (para. 7.88)


Notes for Editors

The Inquiry

Instigated by the Council of The Royal Society of Edinburgh and Chaired by the distinguished Biologist, Sir David Smith, The RSE’s independent inquiry has sought to identify what steps might be taken to secure the future of the fishing industry in Scotland. The Inquiry’s principal objective has been to make an assessment of the extent to which controls imposed on the Scottish fishing industry are scientifically robust. Scotland has the largest part of the United Kingdom’s sea fishing industry and many of Scotland’s more remote communities, especially around the North East coast and in Shetland, are heavily dependent on it for their livelihood. Concerns over declining fish stocks, especially of cod, have led to severe restrictions being imposed under the European Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and concerns exist over the long-term viability of the Scottish fishing industry. The Committee met for the first time on Tuesday 27 May 2003 at The Royal Society of Edinburgh 22-26 George Street Edinburgh.

The Committee has traveled to the North East of Scotland to Shetland, Inverness, Pittenweem, the Western Isles and Copenhagen to take evidence from broad range of individuals and organisations connected with the industry.

Committee Membership

The membership of the Committee, with expertise in marine biology, fish stocks, environmental issues, statistical modelling, social science, business and economics includes:

Sir David Smith FRS FRSE, (Chairman) former Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Edinburgh University and former President of Wolfson College, Oxford

Professor Ian Boyd FRSE, Director of the NERC Sea Mammal Research Unit, University of St. Andrews

Professor Stephen Buckland, Professor of Statistics and Director of the Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling, University of St. Andrews

Mr Edward Cunningham CBE FRSE, Chairman, Business Options Ltd

Professor Gavin McCrone CB FRSE, (Vice-Chairman) Vice-President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Visiting Professor at the University of Edinburgh Management School

Dr Malcolm MacGarvin, Environmental Consultant & Company Director

Professor Alasdair McIntyre CBE FRSE, Former Chief Scientific Officer, DAFS Marine Laboratory, Aberdeen

Professor Monty Priede FRSE, Professor of Zoology, University of Aberdeen

Professor Randolph Richards, Director of the Institute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling

Mr David Symes, Reader Emeritus, University of Hull

Enquiry Remit includes:

- an assessment of the scientific approach and the level of scientific support underlying present and likely future controls imposed on the Scottish fishing industry, including: a comparison with other fishing nations; the impact of improvements in catching technology; and the effects of practices such as industrial fishing

- a consideration of role of aquaculture in the industry, and especially in terms of its potential for replacing some of the reduction in the catch of fish such as cod

- a critical examination of the socio-economic impact of the declining fish catches and of the controls on the industry on the Scottish communities affected (including relevant sectors of the fish processing industry) with particular reference to the likely effects of the control measures now being implemented

- the formation of recommendations on how a viable sea fishing industry can best be maintained in Scotland.



The Chair and Members of the RSE’s independent Committee have given their time to the work of the Inquiry voluntarily, without any charge. The RSE acknowledges financial support from:

- Aberdeenshire Council

- Aberdeen City Council

- Clydesdale Bank

- J Sainsbury plc

- Highlands and Islands Enterprise

- Scottish Enterprise Grampian

- Shell U.K Exploration & Production

- Shetland Islands Council

- Western Isles Council



A list of those from whom written evidence was received is available in the report Appendix 2 and copies of their evidence is available in pdf format on the RSE website
A list of those from whom oral evidence was taken is available in the report Appendix 2.

Visits undertaken by the Committee in the course of the Inquiry in 2003:


A list of those from whom written evidence was received is available in the report Appendix 2 and copies of their evidence is available in pdf format on the RSE website
A list of those from whom oral evidence was taken is available in the report Appendix 2.
Visits undertaken by the Committee in the course of the Inquiry in 2003 :
12 June Highlands and Islands Enterprise seminar on "Fisheries-dependent communities – what future?", Inverness
4 August  Sea Fish Industry Authority, Edinburgh
11 August Committee Meeting at Aberdeenshire Area Office, Peterhea
12 August  Visit to Peterhead Fish Market and Fraserburgh harbour and International Fish Canners (Scotland) Limited, Scofish Limited Processors (Pelagic) (Fraserburgh) and Scottish Fishermens Organisation (Fraserburgh)
29 September -
1 October 
The Shetland Seafood Centre and the North Atlantic Fisheries College, Shetland, as well as the Island of Whalsay
1-2 October North Atlantic Conference, Shetland
8 October  Committee meeting at Highland Council Office, Inverness.
  Moray Firth Partnership and Association of Salmon Fishery Boards seminar on Salmon Fisheries in the Moray Firth, Inverness.
9 October  Lochinver harbour
10 October  International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, Copenhagen
13 October  Fishermen's Mutual Association (Pittenweem) Ltd, Pittenweem and Pittenweem Fish Market
23 October  Foundation for Science and Technology workshop on Scotland and the Common Fisheries Policy, Edinburgh
3 November  Committee Meeting at Scottish Enterprise Grampian, Aberdeen
4 November  Fisheries Research Services Marine Laboratory, Aberdeen
5 November  United Fishing Industry Alliance conference, Edinburgh
21 November  Western Isles Council, Stornoway
10 December  European Commission Fisheries

Availability of the report & its summary

The report and its summary will be made widely available. Electronic versions of it are available on the RSE’s website ( or in hard copy from the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE).

ISBN: 0 902198 98 X ©2004 The Royal Society of Edinburgh

Please contact:

Dr Marc Rands

Policy Officer
The Royal Society of Edinburgh
22-26 George Street,
Edinburgh EH2 2PQ

Tel: +44 (0)131 240 5000

Other Independent RSE Inquiries

Other recent independent Inquiries undertaken by the RSE include:

- Inquiry into Foot & Mouth Disease in Scotland - July 2002

- The Scientific Issues Surrounding the Control of Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA) in Scotland – June 2002

- Encouraging Resolution: Mediating Patient/Health Service Disputes in Scotland – June 2002.


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