A report released by Marine Scotland, called ‘Optimisation modelling in the Nephrops fleet: policy brief’ has proposed that if fishing grounds were redistributed between and within the Nephrops creel and trawl fleets there could be a potential opportunity for economic gains for both types of fishing.

The research found that the Nephrops fishery was the second most valuable for Scottish vessels in 2018, after mackerel. In 2018 the Scottish fleet landed over 18,000 tonnes of Nephrops worth an estimated £63 million. This is almost 11% of the total value of landings by Scottish vessels. In 2017, the Scottish fleet landed around 38% of the world’s total supply of Nephrops

Of the 18,000 tonnes (liveweight) of Nephrops landed by Scottish vessels in 2018, the breakdown by gear type and whole or tailed are:

  • 1,300 tonnes (liveweight) was landed whole by creel, worth around £9 million, priced at around £6,900 per tonne. 
  • 6,800 tonnes (liveweight) was landed whole by trawl, worth around £34 million, priced at around £5,100 per tonne. 
  • 9,800 tonnes (liveweight) was landed tailed by trawl, worth around £17 million, priced at around £1,800 per tonne. 

There are two main gear types that are used in the Nephrops industry: 

  • Static gear – typically creels that are baited and dropped to the seabed where they fish by trapping Nephrops that enter them. Nephrops that are caught tend to be landed whole and live; or, 
  • Mobile gear – typically nets that are trawled on the bottom of the sea to catch any Nephrops that are out of their burrows.  Nephrops that are caught are landed whole or tailed. 

Both creels and trawls can be used to fish for Nephrops in some parts of Scotland’s inshore waters, and can compete for the same fishing grounds.

The issue of competition between vessels operating creel and trawl gear, including competition for access to fishing grounds, has been documented in two reports that were published by the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation (SCFF) in May 2017 and by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) in October 2017. Following these reports, Marine Scotland invested in developing the evidence base further.

The research shows that in 2017 employment on Nephrops creel vessels in the West of Scotland was around 210 on a full time equivalent basis, generating gross value added of around £5 million and landing 1,300 tonnes of Nephrops. Employment was around 510, on a full time equivalent basis, on-board trawl vessels in the West of Scotland, generating gross value added of around £12 million and landing 8,500 tonnes of Nephrops

In the North Sea, there were insufficient creel vessels with a great enough dependency on Nephrops to be modelled as individual fleet segments without breaching data disclosure thresholds. However, there was employment of around 540 on a full time equivalent basis working on North Sea trawl vessels, generating around £18 million in gross value added and landing around 9,000 tonnes of Nephrops.

 

 Key Findings

The research shows that in 2017 employment on Nephrops creel vessels in the West of Scotland was around 210 on a full time equivalent basis, generating gross value added of around £5 million and landing 1,300 tonnes of Nephrops. Employment was around 510, on a full time equivalent basis, on-board trawl vessels in the West of Scotland, generating gross value added of around £12 million and landing 8,500 tonnes of Nephrops. In the North Sea, there were insufficient creel vessels with a great enough dependency on Nephrops to be modelled as individual fleet segments without breaching data disclosure thresholds. However, there was employment of around 540 on a full time equivalent basis working on North Sea trawl vessels, generating around £18 million in gross value added and landing around 9,000 tonnes of Nephrops. Note that the number of people working in the fishery will be higher than that shown by full time equivalence in the case where some people work part time.

The research found that for access to Nephrops fishing grounds from the perspective of maximising employment, the current allocation based on 2017 data was already near optimal given the various considerations. The distribution of fishing grounds between creel and trawl, and within these gear types could moderately increase total employment for the Nephrops fishing fleet, which in 2017 employed 1,264 on a full time equivalent basis. The research shows that redistributing access to fishing grounds to maximise employment could increase employment by around 10%. This comprises additional employment of 88 for Nephrops creel vessels (41% increase) and 75 for trawl vessels (7% increase), both on a full time equivalent basis. 

The research shows that there is scope to increase gross value added by redistributing access to fishing grounds. In particular, an additional £14 million of gross value added may be achieved if fishing access was redistributed to maximise gross value added. This is equivalent to a 39% increase in total gross value added for the Nephrops fleet. Of the £14 million in additional gross value added, £10 million would accrue to the creel fleet and £3 million to the trawl fleet. It shows that overall both fleets can gain from reallocating access to Nephrops fishing to maximise gross value added. 

While the modelled increase in gross value added is achieved by reallocating access to fishing grounds, there will be winners and losers within both the Nephrops creel and trawl fleets. For example, in some areas the optimisation model allocates very large amounts of fishing opportunities to certain fleets. Such increases may not feasibly be taken up by these fleets and these results must be carefully considered. Similarly, there are some fleets which the optimisation model moves fishing opportunities away from. While the model ensures that all fleets remain profitable, the reactions of vessel owners to different levels of profit are unknown. 

The above impacts are reduced if vessels that are identified to benefit from the reallocation of access to Nephrops fishing grounds cannot increase their effort. In this case new vessels matching the characteristics of these vessels would need to be introduced, which results in a smaller increase in gross value added – an additional £9 million (down from £14 million). Despite the use of constraints which aim to increase the realism of the outputs, sensitivities around certain variables and data may still be present. An example of this is that if the potential gains from the fleet segment with the largest increase in gross value added were removed then the overall gain in gross value added falls to £5 million (down from the £9 million above). 

The modelling also suggests that a trawling ban within 3 nautical miles of the coast (an option being promoted by some West Coast creel fishing interests) may result in an increase in gross value added of around £6 million. This is lower than the £14 million that could potentially be achieved through a more targeted reallocation of access to fishing grounds between and within the creel and trawl fleets. While a requirement to only land whole Nephrops leads to the largest potential increase in gross value added – £42 million, however this scenario would be highly sensitive to markets and price changes as it would lead to a large change in end-product composition (from tails to whole Nephrops). All of the above outcomes show that there may be opportunities to increase or change the product mix of Nephrops for a better outcome in terms of gross value added. However, the modelling assumes that there is a market to take any additional quantities at 2017 average prices. 

 

Conclusions and Policy Considerations 

The research has shown that there is potentially an opportunity for economic gains if access to fishing grounds is redistributed between and within the Nephrops creel and trawl fleets. The research provides valuable evidence to guide ongoing discussions on Future Fisheries Management in Scotland, the route through which Marine Scotland will consider evidence from this research to make policy decisions. In doing so, policy will need to take account of a number of factors, some of which are discussed below.

First, the results from the research do not take into account costs to businesses of amending fishing patterns, nor the management and compliance costs associated with any fisheries management designed to achieve what the research identifies as the optimal outcome. The reasons why vessels’ activity in 2017 was not consistent with the optimum identified by the research are likely to be numerous and complex. They could include factors such as: weather, other fisheries management restrictions, perceived gear conflict itself, or other business or personal decisions. Understanding how these factors affect vessel fishing patterns and fishers’ behaviour would be important in devising policies to try and maximise gross value added or employment.

Second, it is unclear whether the optimum outcome identified by this research could be achieved in practice. This research was an exploration of optimisation modelling, which while shown to be feasible includes a number of data and modelling challenges that need to be carefully considered when interpreting the results. While the model and assumptions used have been rigorously tested, consideration may be needed to sense-check these further, and whether modelled changes in some of the fleet segments are feasible let alone desirable. The Future of Fisheries Management discussions would also have to consider what the future policy objectives would be for the Scottish Nephrops fishery. 

Third, economic considerations are only one basis on which Marine Scotland approaches fisheries management. Other factors to consider would be the environmental impacts of the fishery, impacts across supply chains, social impacts, continued access to markets including EU exit impacts, and the impact on prices to changes in the quantity of landings. Further research is required in these areas to build a more complete evidence base. For instance, to maximise gross value added would lead to substantial changes within the creel fleet as well, allocating fishing opportunities to the most efficient, typically larger, creel vessels. This could be to the detriment of smaller scale creel vessels operating on a less commercialised basis but making important contributions to social outcomes to our remote communities.

Fourth, while the research includes around 85% of the Nephrops landings value, there is a need to consider the impact on vessels in other fleet segments more fully. Crucially, the Nephrops fishery does not operate in isolation from other fisheries and interactions with other species needs to be explored further, both in environmental and business terms. Nephrops targeting vessels land other species, and Nephrops may be a by-catch of vessels targeting other species. Impacts on other marine users, including recreational fishers or offshore wind, are also not considered in this report, and would be important factors in any consideration of how best to use Scotland’s marine space. 

Despite the above points, the research indicates potential opportunities to improve economic outcomes within the Scottish Nephrops fishery. Marine Scotland will explore these opportunities as part of the Future of Fisheries Management programme while carefully considering the above points. Marine Scotland is already involved in a number of projects that look to build on several of the evidence gaps identified by the research and that have the scope to test some of the points it identifies. For example, the Scottish Inshore Fisheries Integrated Data System (SIFIDS) project has examined ways to improve data collection within the inshore fleet, which may lay the foundation for more targeted analysis and management in the future, while the Inshore Fisheries Pilots will expand the evidence base around the scope and practical challenges facing local fisheries management. In terms of environmental impacts, Marine Scotland Science are undertaking an evidence review in relation to both the biological stock impacts of different gears as well as their wider environmental impacts.

The research has highlighted that optimisation modelling in the context of a Nephrops fishery is possible with the available data. However, there are a number of significant challenges in relation to undertaking and using such modelling that should be borne in mind. The quantity and quality of data have improved substantially in recent years, especially through the provision of Fish1 form data for under 10 metre vessels. This has allowed spatially disaggregated work to be done, however there are still gaps in the evidence base such as spatial information for 10-12 metre vessels and much of the socio-economic data are based on whole fleet segment averages and may not accurately reflect regional variations. 

This research sets out to show whether optimisation modelling could be undertaken in this area, which it has shown is possible albeit there are still points, such as those above, to take into consideration. Marine Scotland will carefully consider these points and continue to develop the evidence base, exploring new data, testing new assumptions, filling the identified evidence gaps, and taking on-board feedback from stakeholders. As such Marine Scotland welcome any feedback on the model and its outputs to allow us to create as robust an evidence base as possible for future policy and fisheries management consideration. 

Photo Credit: By Lucas the Scot – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7314884

Source: Marine Scotland

 

 

Marine Scotland Report recommends sharing Nephrops fishing grounds

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