Rural Secretary Mairi Gougeon has promised to investigate ways to stop sandeel fishing by Danish and Swedish in Scottish waters
Scottish Rural Secretary Mairi Gougeon has promised to investigate ways to stop “industrial” sandeel fishing by Danish and Swedish fishing vessels in Scottish waters.
In 2020, Danish boats alone landed over 171,000 tonnes of sandeel in national ports with Norway, Sweden and other countries contributing a further 67,000 tonnes, leaving a total of 238,000 tonnes of sandeel either being mulched for fish farm feed or being burned in industrial burners for generating electricity.
Sandeel fishing by Scottish boats was prohibited after huge environmental concerns that the plundering of the little fish was causing the decline in other fish stocks, marine life and birdlife that depended on them.
Unfortunately, the rules banning the fishery was not extended to their European neighbours such as Denmark and the Sweden during the UK’s membership of the EU, and post-Brexit, due to the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, these neighbouring coastal states remain actively fishing sandeel in Scottish waters; Area 4a and 4b of the North Sea.
Last week, Willie Rennie, MSP for the Liberal Democrats asked the new Fisheries Secretary if the Scottish Government what action it will be taking regarding reports that Danish and Swedish boats were intensively fishing for sandeels off the Firth of Forth.
In her reply, the Secretary said, “The terms of the trade and co-operation agreement that was established between the United Kingdom and the European Union in December 2020 entitle those vessels to fish their quota in UK waters. Through the bilateral agreement for 2021, which was finalised last week, a total allowable catch level has been set for sand eel, giving EU quota to fish against.
“However, given the importance of sand eels to the wider ecosystem and the subsequent benefit in aiding the long-term sustainability and resilience of the North Sea, it remains an overarching and long-held Scottish Government position not to support fishing for sand eel or other industrial species in our waters. I have therefore instructed my officials to consider what management measures can be put in place to manage activity in the most sustainable way possible.”
Mr Rennie replied, “That is very good news. The kittiwake population has been cut in half in the past 50 years, partly as a result of industrial sand eel fishing. In the past month, more than 20 Swedish and Danish boats spent days off the Fife coast hoovering up tonnes of sand eels for pig meal. Local fishermen and RSPB Scotland are very concerned about the impact on seabirds. A previous Government took action at Wee Bankie, and we need action now. I want the minister to think of the puffins and to set out the urgent action that will be taken on sand eels.”
The Secretary noted the importance of the fish stock to to other marine wildlife saying, “Absolutely. I appreciate the concerns that Willie Rennie has raised, and I completely understand the one regarding sand eels. The issue is the wider ecosystem and the impact that such fishing has on species whose numbers are depleting. That is why I have committed to looking at the issue as a matter of urgency, to see what measures we can put in place.”
by Oliver McBride