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SPFA announces new chief executive


Ian Gatt, the president of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, will be joining the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association on 6 April as its new chief executive. He will replace Derek Duthie, who is moving to the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation to become its new director of administration & finance.

Ian, who has been president of the SFF for the last three years, will step down as Federation president at the next executive committee meeting in June.

Alex Wiseman, chairman of SPFA commented: “I am delighted to welcome Ian Gatt to the Association. Ian is ideally placed to take on the post of chief executive as he has been closely involved in the politics of the fishing industry for a number of years and has attended the external fisheries negotiations, including the ongoing and crucially important mackerel consultations.”

Ian Gatt said: “I am delighted to be joining SPFA after an enjoyable period with SFF. I am looking to provide continuity in the representation of members interests at a time of uncertainty.”


SPFA comments on December Fish Council


The Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association has welcomed the outcome of the December Fish Council which comes at the end of a hectic fisheries negotiating season. Working together, the UK and Scottish Ministers and their officials secured some very important results for the Scottish pelagic fleet in Brussels. This included; ensuring that the allocation of mackerel quota available for the fleet to fish in early 2010 reflects the historical trends and seasonal nature of the fishery and gaining an assurance from the European Commission that controls on the Spanish and Portuguese mackerel fleets will be improved to bring them into step with the fleets of northern Member States.

Speaking after an Association board meeting held to review the outcomes of the latest negotiations, chief executive, Derek Duthie, said:

“The 2009 fisheries negotiations have proved incredibly complex. At stake has been the very future of the Scottish pelagic fleet as a management solution for mackerel, our principle fishery, has been sought.

“It was therefore of utmost importance that our team dug in to protect Scottish mackerel interests at the December Fish Council and they did.

“It is crucial that all fleets fishing pelagic species are working under the same control regimes. For too long, the southern Member States have not been required to have landings of mackerel verified under rules already in place in northern Europe and the decision at Council to bring Spain and Portugal into line is an important first step in this process.

“Pressure from our Ministers also delivered an acceptable mackerel allocation for the fleet for the forthcoming winter mackerel fishery, overcoming initial Commission proposals which would have severely affected normal fishing patterns. A 12% increase in the West of Scotland herring TAC was also achieved in line with the long-term management plan.

“2010 will see a resumption of talks between the various mackerel Coastal States and we will continue to work closely with our officials to ensure that a fair deal is struck to secure the long-term sustainability of the stock. In the meantime, it is absolutely critical that the present strong line continues into the next round of talks between the Community and Norway”.


SPFA responds to latest ICES mackerel advice

ICES released its advice for widely distributed pelagic stocks on Friday, 9 October. The North East Atlantic mackerel stock is reported to have a stable spawning stock biomass (SSB) which has increased 47% in the period 2002 – 2008 and is estimated to be around 2.6 million tonnes in 2009. The 2003 year class is the highest on record and subsequent year classes are estimated to be about average.

2009 mackerel catches are estimated to be above those recommended by ICES due to the out-take from the stock from fisheries outwith the Coastal States agreement, including the 112,000 tonne catch declared by Iceland and the unilateral quotas set by Norway and Faroe. Following the management plan adopted by the Coastal States in 2008, which allows for fishing mortality in the range 0.20 to 0.22 when SSB is above 2.2 million tonnes, the ICES advice implies catches of between 527,000 and 572,000 tonnes in 2010.

Commenting on the latest ICES advice on mackerel, SPFA chief executive, Derek Duthie said:

“Fishermen and scientists agree that the mackerel stock is in healthy condition. There are however, clearly a number of complicated management issues that need to be addressed by the mackerel Coastal States this year. Some fishing nations are not taking their responsibilities with regards to the mackerel seriously and this needs the urgent attention of managers if the stock is to remain in a good state.

“The Scottish pelagic industry has taken big strides in recent years to lead the way in sustainable pelagic fisheries and under no circumstances should Scottish pelagic fishermen be penalised for the irresponsible behaviour of other mackerel catching nations when it comes to the setting of next years’ mackerel fishing opportunities.”


Mackerel fishery in Community waters closed to Norwegian fleet

The fishery for mackerel in EU waters was closed to Norwegian vessels at midnight on Thursday, 1 October after Norway had exhausted its 53,000 tonnes access quota for 2009. Commenting on the closure, SPFA chief executive, Derek Duthie, said:

“North East Atlantic mackerel has been the mainstay of the Scottish pelagic fleet for many years now. As well as keeping the fleet viable, it is also responsible for providing employment to a large number of primary and secondary processing workers in Scotland’s most fishing dependent communities. It is widely acknowledged that the stock is in a very healthy condition and there is a determination within the country to maintain a well-managed fishery for future generations.

“Effective control and enforcement systems are a vital part of securing this sustainable future and it is with this in mind that the closure of Community waters to Norwegian vessels fishing for mackerel is a hugely significant event. The reporting arrangements for third country vessels fishing in EC waters were reviewed by the European Commission and Member States this year. These rules are a vital component in the overall management of mackerel fisheries and have been implemented efficiently and effectively by Marine Scotland Compliance in the past few weeks. They are not however unique. Community vessels fishing in the Norwegian zone have had to comply with strict and rigorously enforced reporting and control regimes for decades.

“The Scottish pelagic fleet has no access to fish mackerel in Norwegian waters and this makes the 53,000 tonnes available to the Norwegian fleet in our waters this year look exceedingly generous. Scottish pelagic fishermen have painful memories of having to wait patiently for the mackerel to enter the EU zone in the past while the quota year ran down.

“At a time when reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is on the agenda it is important to remember that in order for fisheries management to succeed fair and equitable regulatory frameworks need to apply. This includes third country fishermen who wish to take advantage of fishing opportunities in our waters. Mackerel is only one of the stocks in this category and there is a need for the EU to review the systems they have in place for other stocks to ensure that they are up to the standard of the new mackerel provisions.

“The quick utilisation of the Norwegian access tonnage in 2009 is not surprising. For a number of years now a western movement in the distribution of the mackerel stock has been observed. This year is merely a continuation of a trend whereby mackerel is spending a greater amount of its time in Community waters evidenced by the early migration of the stock from the Norwegian to the Community zone and the widespread abundance of mackerel observed by inshore and offshore fishermen throughout the year.

“The Scottish pelagic industry seized the initiative in 2007 when it entered its mackerel fishery for assessment into the Marine Stewardship council (MSC) standard. The fishery was certified at the start of this year, the first large-scale mackerel fishery, to achieve this. This is a statement of intent of the importance placed by the industry on this key stock and the approach is keenly supported by Marine Scotland. At a time when the actions of some fishing nations are threatening to undermine mackerel management, the Scottish pelagic industry will continue to work with Marine Scotland, the European Commission and its colleagues in the Northern Pelagic Working Group to secure stability.”

Following a bilateral meeting between the EU and Norway in London on 7 October, the fishery remains closed to Norwegian vessels.


ICES releases advice for North Sea and West of Scotland herring


The annual scientific advice was issued by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) on 26 June.

For North Sea herring there is the usual table of catch options provided for 2010; however the advice according to the management plan agreed by the Community and Norway last year is for a TAC of 164,300 tonnes for 2010, a reduction of 4%. The spawning stock biomass is estimated to be 1 million tonnes in 2009 and predicted to rise to 1.2 million tonnes in 2012 so it is hoped that the biomass has “bottomed-out” and that the TAC will start to rise along with the stock in 2011.

The West of Scotland herring (VIa North) advice is more encouraging. Following the 2008 acoustic survey, the spawning stock biomass is estimated to have risen to 92,000 tonnes in 2009 pushing the fishing mortality level into the top tier of the management plan (F = 0.25). Following the management plan would result in a TAC of 24,420 tonnes for 2010, an increase of 12%.

The full North Sea herring advice can be viewed on the ICES website at:


The West of Scotland herring advice can be viewed at:




In late March the RV Celtic Explorer departed Galway for a 21-day survey to acoustically measure the size of the spawning stock of blue whiting (Micromesistius poutassou) in western waters. This survey represented the sixth in the International time series and was carried out by vessels participating from Norway (FV Brennholm), Faroe Islands (RV Magnus Heinason), the Netherlands (RV Tridens) and the Russian Federation (RV Fridtjof Nansen).

The objective of the survey was to obtain an estimate of relative abundance and distribution of blue whiting in the main spawning grounds. Fishing hauls were carried out to determine the composition of schools and to assess the length, weight, age, sex, stomach content and maturity of blue whiting. All survey information was then complied relating the biology, distribution and abundance of blue whiting over the entire survey area.


Area coverage

The combined survey covered from 51-61ºN and from 4-18ºW. For the purposes of data analysis the survey area was divided into sub areas: core spawning and peripheral spawning areas. The survey used a total of 9,800nmi (nautical miles) of survey transects to cover an area of 134,000nmi2.


Stock distribution

Blue whiting were found throughout the survey area, with the bulk of the stock distributed close to or along shelf break.  The Hebrides and further offshore around the Rosemary bank were found to contain the highest densities of fish recorded during the survey (Figure 1).

The bulk of the stock was centred further north than observed during the same time in 2008. This can be attributed to earlier spawning in 2009 and an earlier migration of the stock northwards to the summer feeding grounds in the Norwegian Sea. Communications between survey vessels and their respective national fleets working the area also confirmed the earlier timing of spawning and migration as compared to previous years.

Stock composition

Individuals of ages 1 to 14 years were observed during the survey. The stock structure was dominated by 6, 5 and 7-year old fish respectively and is consistent with samples taken from commercial catches. Together these three age classes represent over 75% of the total biomass of the stock.

The contribution of immature fish to the total biomass remained low in 2009. Combined, 1 and 2-year old immature fish represented less than 0.6% of the total biomass and 6% of the total numbers. These immature fish were encountered almost exclusively on the Rockall and Porcupine Banks. Very few immature fish were found in core areas along the shelf edge.

Annually an unknown percentage of blue whiting larvae spawned along the Rockall and Porcupine Banks are retained by the hydrographic conditions that encircle the Banks. These ‘resident’ blue whiting are not known to undertake the northward feeding migration observed by the larger main component of the stock and can be found year round in low densities off the west coast. 

Analyses of biological samples from the survey area revealed an increased proportion of early maturity within the stock. For 1-year old fish this was observed at 15%, a similar level to that observed in 2008 (23%). For 2-year old fish (2007 year class) 85% were found to be mature, an increase on the 64% observed in 2008. What is important to note is that no 1-year old fish were observed within the main body of the stock in the Hebrides area and that this contribution came entirely from the residual populations found on both the Rockall and Porcupine Banks.

The lack of immature and juvenile fish within the stock and the protracted period of low recruitment are the most worrying signs for this stock. The low levels of recruitment from residual resident populations are not large enough to sustain the stock at its current level.

Egg and larval survival and prey availability in early life stages are largely unknown.  Large scale fluctuations in the sub polar gyre and the strength of flow of the North Atlantic current are believed to be strong causal influences on recruitment success.

Stock estimate

The total blue whiting biomass for the international survey was over 24% lower in 2009 in terms of biomass and over 31% lower in abundance (numbers) as compared to 2008. Area coverage was 5% greater in 2009 than in 2008. The 5% increase was achieved in the peripheral areas to the west of the Rockall Bank, with core areas receiving the same degree of coverage as in previous years. Overall the 2009 biomass estimate is the lowest in the current 6-year time series. 

Over 62% of the total biomass was recorded in the Hebrides core area, with the Rockall and Faroe/Shetland areas contributing 16% and 15% respectively. Increased biomass was observed in the Faroe/Shetland area compared with the same time in 2008. Biomass in the southern region around the north Porcupine Bank area was significantly lower than in 2008.  This shift in distribution can be attributed to the early spawning and that the stock had progressed much further north than at the same time in 2008. The stock was considered well contained during the survey and so the significant reduction in biomass was not due to migration outside of the area covered.

Mackerel distribution

Ordinarily distributed along the shelf slope at this time of year, mackerel were encountered in open water. Schools were observed as far west as the Hatton Bank (15ºW) and across the Rockall Trough at depths of between 60-300m, forming distinct schools occurring over large areas. Stomach contents revealed mackerel to be actively feeding on mesopelagic fish and were most frequently encountered within this layer. This is an interesting observation given that the feeding phase of the mackerel stock is usually associated with more northern latitudes. During daylight hours mackerel were discernable as single schools. At night these schools would disperse through the mesopelagic layer.

The presence of mackerel schools in open waters was reported by all participant vessels. The wide distribution and relatively high abundance was reported by all participant vessels. Such wide distribution has not been previously encountered during the current time series and maybe a further indication of the current high biomass of the mackerel stock. The results from these internationally coordinated surveys will be used in the next scientific assessments which will form the basis for the advice for the 2010 TAC’s.


Figure 1. Blue whiting distribution as determined from acoustic density recordings (Sa values). Image courtesy of Valery Ignashkin, PINRO, Russia.

Figure 2. High density schools of blue whiting recorded by the RV Celtic Explorer (38kHz) to the east of the Rosemary Bank depth scale on left of image, vertical bands represent 1nmi intervals.

Figure 3. RV Celtic Explorer shooting her pelagic trawl. Blue whiting survey, March 2009

By Ciaran O’Donnell, Fisheries Science Services, Marine Institute, Ireland.


Managers and industry aim for twin objectives of sustainability and stability in pelagic fisheries

The concept of long-term management plans for fish stocks is not new but it has certainly taken increased prominence in the North East Atlantic pelagic fisheries in the last few years. Fisheries management is never straight-forward, and one of the complications in the North East Atlantic is that the international parties differ for each stock and the nations involved all have their own priority fisheries. Decisions on mackerel management are, for instance, made by three parties; the European Community, Faroe and Norway, while the same three coastal States plus Iceland and Russia determine the Total Allowable Catches (TACs) for Atlanto-Scandian herring. The Community receives the lion’s share of the mackerel TAC while Norway enjoys the bulk of Atlanto-Scandian herring and while the Community predictably takes a precautionary approach to setting TACs, Norway lacks consistency; regularly changing its positions to suit its own ends. This was evidenced in its attempts to talk up the 2009 mackerel TAC while simultaneously advocating very low fishing mortality levels for Atlanto-Scandian herring.

During the last five years, the various permutations of parties have come together to thrash out rules for the management of the stocks with a view to keeping them within safe biological boundaries after taking scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). This has sometimes been a controversial and tiresome process as in a number of cases the parties first had to agree on what their respective shares would be before being able to agree on how the fisheries should be managed.

Management plans are now in place for all of the pelagic stocks in which the Scottish pelagic fleet has an interest. The procedure for their development has not been uniform. In some instances the initiative has been taken by managers with industry invited later in the process to give opinions on options already presented by the scientists, while in others a more “bottom up” approach has seen industry heavily involved from the beginning. Clearly, where industry is involved from the outset there is a much better chance of “buy-in” from fishermen as industry seeks to ensure that a balance is struck between stock conservation and socio-economic impacts.

It is hard for businesses to cope with wildly fluctuating conditions and the fishing industry has for many years argued against large annual fluctuations in TACs. One way of achieving catch stability is the inclusion of inter-annual TAC variations within management plans. The Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) were established 3 years ago to advise the European Commission on fisheries management. A number of Scottish industry representatives are involved in the Pelagic RAC and it has taken a keen interest in both short and long-term management. The Pelagic RAC has aimed to have +/-15% introduced as the standard inter-annual variation, however in practice managers have often opted for slightly higher levels.

So managers have devised parameters for the long-term management of the pelagic fish stocks and the TACs and quotas are set and managed accordingly. Only a decade ago, this would have been considered more than adequate for sustainable fishing but this in no longer the case. With the rise of the environmental movement and increased consumer awareness of sustainability issues there is now also an expectation for fisheries to be assessed by an independent body before being classed as sustainable. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) runs the best known of these schemes, the MSC environmental standard for sustainable fishing which has been adopted internationally. The catching and processing sectors of the Scottish pelagic industry recognised the importance of proving its sustainability credentials from both reputational and market perspectives and formed the Scottish Pelagic Sustainability Group (SPSG) in 2007. SPSG immediately entered the North Sea herring and North East Atlantic mackerel fisheries for assessment. Both of these SPSG fisheries have now been certified as sustainable under the MSC scheme having met the following 3 core principles:

  • Principle 1: Sustainable fish stocks. The fishing activity must be at a level which is sustainable for the fish population. Any certified fishery must operate so that fishing can continue indefinitely and is not overexploiting the resources.
  • Principle 2: Minimising environmental impact. Fishing operations should be managed to maintain the structure, productivity, function and diversity of the ecosystem on which the fishery depends.
  • Principle 3: Effective management. The fishery must meet all local, national and international laws and must have a management system in place to respond to changing circumstances and maintain sustainability.

By engaging in the process of developing long-term management arrangements, endorsing MSC accreditation and promoting a number of other responsible fishing initiatives, the Scottish pelagic industry is playing a full part in trying to ensure that we have healthy fish stocks for future generations. It is only with responsible stewardship of our priceless renewable resource that the future of our fisheries dependent communities will be secured.

Derek Duthie (This article appeared in The Buchan Observer in March 2009)

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