Scotland has the opportunity to develop a world-leading, sustainable fishing industry that can support the delivery of healthier and more productive seas.

Scotland’s seas are made up of a mosaic of marine ecosystems, from sea lochs to deep-sea coral reefs, which provide a diverse wealth of benefits to society, such as food, employment, and recreation. However, the ability of marine ecosystems to provide such benefits is dependent upon their health – healthier ecosystems provide more benefits.

Scotland’s seas have been subject to persistent degradation through human activity, which threatens the health of marine ecosystems and the benefits they provide.

In Scotland, commercial fishing is recognised as one of the most widespread and significant pressures on marine ecosystems. Perversely, the success and longevity of commercial fisheries relies upon healthy marine ecosystems.

Scotland is a maritime nation, and fishing is embedded within our society and cultural heritage. But poor management of fishing activity, and the use of damaging practices such as scallop dredging have resulted in unsustainable exploitation of commercial fish stocks and a decline in marine biodiversity, caused by physical damage to seabed habitats and bycatch (the capture and death of non-target marine species).


Overfishing occurs when a commercial species is removed from an ecosystem (i.e. fished) at a rate faster than it can naturally reproduce, resulting in the population size becoming smaller. As fish populations become depleted, there is a risk they will not be able to recover at all, which would be devastating for both fishers and marine ecosystems.

To address overfishing, fish quotas are identified, which determine the amount of fish that can be caught from a stock – known as Total Allowable Catch (TAC). TACs are set annually and are based on scientific advice, which determines the maximum amount of fish that can be caught without causing stock decline – known as Maximum Sustainable Yield. Countries then negotiate to determine how TACs are distributed.

Despite these measures, in 2018, just 67% of Scotland’s commercial stocks were fished below their Maximum Sustainable Yield.

Damage to habitats and wildlife

There are many different forms of fishing, each of which target different species. For example, pelagic trawls target schools of fish in open water, such as herring, whereas bottom-contact trawls target species that live on or near the seafloor. Some fishing practices can cause direct damage to marine habitats, in particular mobile bottom-contact gear.

In addition to seafloor damage, non-target species like whales, dolphins and seabirds can become entangled in nets and ropes, and accidentally caught as bycatch.

Our priorities

In Scotland, fisheries management is a devolved power and the responsibility of the Scottish Government. Such power provides the country with an opportunity to develop a world-leading sustainable fishing industry that prioritises ecosystem health for the benefit of society and future generations.

To tackle the widespread degradation of Scotland’s marine ecosystems, effective management of fisheries is essential. To achieve this, the Trust has identified six key recommendations that will help Scotland achieve its aspiration to become a world-leader in fisheries management and, ultimately, lead to healthier and more productive seas.

1. Adopt an ecosystem-based fisheries management approach that truly places the environment at the core of decision-making and ensures all fishing activity occurs within environmental limits.

2. Improve data availability to ensure all fisheries management decisions are well informed and based on the most up-to-date scientific evidence.

3. Modernise the fishing industry through the use of digital technology to improve monitoring, compliance and enforcement whilst increasing transparency and accountability in the supply chain.

4. Manage fish stocks and the wider marine environment in a way that is inclusive of stakeholder views at national and international scales.

5. Bring fisheries into the wider context of marine environmental management through improved spatial planning of fishing activities.

6. Ensure adequate resources are available to develop, implement, monitor, and enforce management measures.

Read the Trust’s full policy on Fisheries Management.

What the Trust is doing

The Trust participates in meetings and workshops and engages directly with groups including policy makers, fisheries representatives, and MSPs to advocate for sustainable management of fisheries and conservation of Scotland’s marine environment.

Additionally, the Trust works within Scottish Environment LINK’s Marine Group to develop collective positions and advocacy on fisheries management, Marine Protected Areas and other related areas.

Through LINK we support the Save Scottish Seas campaign, which has already helped to secure protection from bottom trawling and dredging in the most vulnerable inshore Marine Protected Areas.

Together we are calling for the transformation of fisheries management through our Ocean Recovery Plan. This will require new policies and, where necessary, new legislation to support a just transition to a modern, world-leading climate and nature-friendly fishing industry. More specifically, we are calling for:

  • Binding targets to end overfishing and eliminate the bycatch and entanglement of non-target and protected species.
  • A requirement for fully documented fisheries, delivered through remote electronic monitoring (with cameras) to improve data collection and help to end illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
  • A mechanism to improve inshore fisheries governance and the transition to a new spatial management regime, which includes a presumption against trawling and dredging in a significant part of Scotland’s inshore water.
  • A new vessel licensing system that allocates fishing opportunities according to transparent and objective environmental, social and economic criteria, to incentivise the most sustainable fishing practices.


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