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 Government 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 through a restrictive licensing system, alongside other legislative and administrative tools. Fishing for stocks which are under 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 zone.
Since 1984, inshore fisheries in Scotland have been regulated primarily through the Inshore Fishing (Scotland) Act 1984. This Act enables Ministers to regulate fishing in inshore waters by prohibiting combinations of the following:
Ministers may also specify the period during which prohibitions apply, and any exceptions to any prohibition.
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 used for 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.
Recent developments in fisheries management includes the setting up of Inshore Fisheries Groups (IFGs). These aim to put fishermen at the heart of decision making, to draw on expertise that already exists within fishing communities, and to strike a fair balance between competing demands in Scotland's inshore waters.
The progress of IFGs has not been as fast or straightforward as expected, following a change of Government in May. However, the new Scottish Government has confirmed that it wishes to continue with the IFG concept and Marine Directorate officials have been asked to undertake a review exercise in fishing communities. The exercise, called 'taking stock' is looking at how best to meet the expectations of all stakeholders in coastal communities.
The Marine Directorate is currently finalising its assessment of the findings and Scottish Ministers will make an announcement on the way forward by the end of the year.