Figure 5.1 Trends in landings and first-sale value of shellfish, pelagic and demersal species landed by UK vessels into the UK and abroad.

Norway lobster

© Crown copyright 2010, Marine Scotland

The UK marine fisheries sector comprises all socio-economic activities related to the capture of wild marine fish and shellfish, and the subsequent handling and processing of catches. In 2007, the UK commercial marine fishery landed 611 thousand tonnes of fish and shellfish into the UK and abroad, worth almost £650 million at first sale (Figure 5.1). Of this, £510 million of catch was from the eight UK regions providing a GVA of £204 million. Shellfish and demersal fish species currently contribute around 40% each to the total market value of the catch, with the remaining 20% comprising pelagic species such as mackerel and herring. Secondary activities can be equally important with fish processing from sea fisheries contributing £385 million GVA in 2007.

The North-East Atlantic mackerel stock currently supports the most valuable fin-fish fishery in UK waters, operating mainly from Scotland. In Northern Ireland, Wales and the Channel Islands, the most valuable fisheries are for shellfish, reflecting the relatively higher incidence of inshore fishing for crabs, lobsters and other shellfish such as cockles in these areas. The demersal fisheries in the North Sea, west of Scotland and in the Irish Sea have shifted away from offshore fishing for fin-fish species and towards inshore waters for the very valuable Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus) and other shellfish and mixed demersal species. This shift has resulted partly from long-term declines in many stocks and associated fishing restrictions, particularly those aimed at cod recovery, as well as the perceived economic opportunities in other fisheries. The composition of catch within each administrative area is summarised in Table 5.2.


Dan Bolt

Seven of the top ten most profitable fleet segments operate in the North Sea and off the west of Scotland. The total profit earned by the UK fleet was around £95 million in 2006 (before interest payments and depreciation). This represented a 24% decline from 2005 despite increased earnings, although 12 out of 27 fleet segments showed increasing profits over this period. Profitability has varied widely in the UK catching sector during the 2000s because of a reduction in catch per unit effort, escalating fuel prices, an increase in quota trading, and increases in first-sale prices following the introduction of Buyers and Sellers regulations in 2006.

Commercial fishing is a particularly important socio-economic activity in remote coastal regions in Scotland, and in coastal regions in Wales, Northern Ireland and the south-west, although it makes a relatively low contribution to overall GDP. It can provide the economic heart in such regions, where the inshore fishery is dominated by small boat activity. The UK catching sector employed almost 13 000 people in 2007, while the processing sector employed over 18 000 people in 2005 (although some of this processing employment is derived from aquaculture products). The dependency of jobs on fishing can be as high as 20% or more in some coastal communities.

Over the past eight years, total fishing effort in the international demersal fisheries has fallen by around 30% or more in the North Sea, west of Scotland and in the Irish Sea. During the same period, North Sea haddock and cod, and northern-shelf saithe have shown significant declines in fishing mortality (the term ‘fishing mortality’ defines the rate at which fish are removed from the stock by fishing). These trends are likely to be due to a combination of EU controls on total allowable catches (TACs) and effort, and the decommissioning of vessels in the UK and some other countries. The UK demersal trawl fleet was decommissioned by 15% between 1997 and 2007, with a particularly large impact on the Scottish fleet. Fleet capacity is currently (2007) estimated at 213 000 tonnes; 6763 commercial fishing vessels.

Figure 5.2 Change in exploitation status of 20 indicator fin-fish stocks around the UK. (a) Percentage of stocks at full reproductive capacity and being harvested sustainably; (b) percentage of stocks where one of the conditions holds each year.

The main pressures of fishing on ecosystem services are on productivity and biodiversity. Although there is evidence in a range of ecosystems that fishing can cause a reduction in biodiversity, the evidence is less clearly established than for productivity of individual fish stocks. The direct impact of fishing gears on components of the wider marine ecosystem and habitats may ultimately also impact on the marine resources available to the fishing sector. Generally, there is good information on the distribution and intensity of the use of different gear types.

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) provides scientific assessments on the sustainability of European fish stocks. In addition, various government agencies throughout the UK publish annual statistics on the UK fishing and processing industry. Further data on fish stock abundance and distribution, and on aspects of fishing gear design, come from the Fisheries Science Partnership and the Scottish Industry/Science Partnership both of which have developed increasing time-series of data on fish stocks since Charting Progress.

Out of 20 indicator fin-fish stocks in UK waters, the proportion of stocks at full reproductive capacity and being harvested sustainably has risen from around 10% in the early 1990s to 25% in 2007 (Figure 5.2a), while the proportion of stocks with full reproductive capacity has changed little since 1990. The proportion of these 20 indicator fin-fish stocks being harvested sustainably has risen from 10% to around 40% over the same time period (Figure 5.2b). The lack of a concomitant increase in reproductive capacity following reductions in fishing mortality may be due to time lags in the recovery of stock biomass, or environmental factors affecting recruitment. Data for 2008 have become available since the Feeder Report was prepared by the Productive Seas Evidence Group and begin to show improvements in spawning stock biomass associated with the progressive reduction in fishing mortality (see


Crown copyright 2010

Overall, the large majority of scientifically assessed stocks continue to be fished at rates well above the levels expected to provide the highest long-term yield. The European Commission is developing multi-annual management plans to recover depleted stocks, and to manage stocks sustainably. They seek to restrict fishing mortality rates to the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) by 2015, as required by the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. Such management plans were initially focused on cod recovery, but have now been extended to a range of other species.

Since Charting Progress, the UK Government and Devolved Administrations have made considerable progress in establishing longterm visions and strategies for sustainable development of the fishing industry and associated activities. This has included further strengthening of the role of the fishing industry in management decisions and collection of data, for example through consultation exercises and fishery science partnerships. The identification of target fishing mortality rates and indicators to monitor progress towards achieving MSY will continue development while revisions to the EU Common Fisheries Policy and implementation of the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive will increase the focus on management of fisheries within a broader ecosystem framework.

Table 5.2 Percentage composition of total value of catch taken by vessels registered in different parts of the UK in 2007.

N Ireland
Total UK