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Scottish RSA Has Just Become Relevant

Aug 11,2006 Ian Burrett

Below is the letter we have just recieved from the Scottish executive after a meeting with John Brown, Head of tourism and Frank Strang, Head of fisheries. RSA attendees were Myself representing the SACN and Steve Bastion and Barry Scholes from the SFSA

Steve spoke about the economics
I spoke about RSA needs and fish stocks
Barry spoke about Social Inclusion

The full letter reads:

Thank you for coming to see us last week. I thought we had a good discussion. John (who as you will probably know has just departed on leave) and I appreciated in particular the presentations you made. They had clearly been prepared very carefully, drawing on contributions from a wide range of sea anglers and others. Thank you for all your efforts.

The starting point of our discussion was the scale and importance of sea angling in Scotland. We agreed that much else flows from that issue. We were very interested in the figures which you put on the table. As you yourself said, these were, in the absence of any firmer data, built up from a range of different sources. Whilst the estimates are valuable in their own right, they could usefully be supplemented by a more systematic analysis. We proposed that we should commission a study into the economic impact of the sector in Scotland. Whilst this is something which we would expect the Executive to commission (and finance), we are very keen that we draw on your expertise in drawing up the terms of reference and guiding the study.

We hope to be able to let you see within the next week or two a draft of the terms of reference and look forward to working with you to ensure that we produce robust, credible results. The data you have already provided will be a useful initial input and I have forwarded them to our economic advisers and to Chris Dodds who will be the first point of contact on this. If we are to do the matter justice, then the study may take some time. (We may, for example, decide to conduct it in two phases, with an initial scoping). Nevertheless, we consider it important that we press on now with putting the work in hand.

On , fisheries , you • and in particular Ian • stressed the importance of healthy fish stocks for the future of RSA. We set out how the new Inshore Fisheries Groups will function, stressing in particular the overall purpose of encouraging local discussion and decision-making. We explained that part of the structure will be a formal requirement on IFGs to consult key stakeholders, including, explicitly, sea anglers. The Executive would expect to see evidence of this participation as management proposals are taken forward. We explained that this issue could be looked at in the context of the review of the Scottish Inshore Fisheries Advisory Group, which is underway and to which we invited you to contribute (as you know the contact here is Rob Roberts). From our point of view, the key will be to make the new structures work locally (starting with the IFGs in the south east and Western Isles), with sea anglers demonstrating that they are important players who can and should make contributions to local plans.

Your team stressed several times that RSA is not in competition with commercial fishing. We strongly agree. Both sea angling and sea fisheries stand or fall on sustainable management of the resource. For that reason the actions we are taking under our strategy for sea fisheries • for example developing sustainable stock strategies based on moderate fishing pressure, enhanced enforcement and, in the recent past, significant decommissioning of vessels • will be of benefit to both sectors. Nevertheless, you made some specific points in respect of fish stocks of relevance to sea anglers (what Ian termed his “big 4”). We will look at these in more detail. The only points we would make in the meantime are that, on the common skate, the measures suggested in the DEFRA Fishing Focus are ones which they have discussed with us and which would be pursued on a UK basis. On tope, we here will need to reflect on the implications for ourselves of the outcome of DEFRA’s consultation exercise. More generally, we agreed that it was important that sea angling issues be taken more fully into account in decisions on stock management, in particular the annual negotiations on TACs and quotas. We undertook to ensure that you are invited to participate in stakeholder discussions on these negotiations.

On that theme, John and I welcomed the renewed dialogue which this meeting symbolised. We suggested • and you agreed • that there should be a further meeting in the not too distant future • perhaps once the initial results from the study have emerged.

I am copying to John.

Frank Strang

This is fantastic news as it means for the first time, RSA has political identity in Scotland, and we will be involved as stakeholders in stock management decisions. I am aware we will be facing a group of commercial fishermen similar to the SFC’s in England but it is a start, and for our first meeting, I would consider it a result.

We went into the meeting thinking the best result we could expect is for the exec. to think about an economic survey. To walk out the meeting with a promise of a survey and inclusion on some stock management decisions was a great feeling. Steve and Barry will confirm I came out doing a jig on the Scottish execs steps. Its taken many hours and letters to get this far but once the results off the economic survey is announced everything should fall into place.

The Scottish executive has agreed to follow Defras lead on Skate conservation. That in essence means it will be illegal to land any common Skate over 85cm which equates to 25lb. Although not exactly what we wanted it will stop any commercials from targeting the skate anywhere in Scotland and any caught over 25lbs. on long lines for the Spurs should be returned unharmed and I believe is a significant breakthrough.

I am not to sure what was meant about the tope but I will be writing for clarification. The exec. has promised to look at the “big four” in more detail. I suspect nothing will be done untill after the economic survey proves the points we made

Many thanks to all those who have contributed with ideas and emails. Also a big well done to Steve who spent days pouring over facts and figures to present to the exec.

To show it wasn’t all a fob off, they asked for a further meeting.

Below is the report my presentation was based on It is a long read but i wanted it in the public domain as I feel it is best if everything is out in the open.

SACN report for 3/7/06 meeting with the Scottish executive.
Compiled by Ian Burrett
SACN regional co-ordinator for Scotland


Scotland is missing out on a huge potential to develop tourism and is failing to protect the depleted inshore fish stocks and the SACN and the SFSA feel they must be involved to try and redress the balance.

The Sea anglers conservation network (SACN) has over four hundred individual members and also many affiliated clubs and societies including the Scottish Federation of Sea Anglers (SFSA) and the English and Welsh National federation of sea anglers, which means we are representing thousands of anglers throughout the UK, many of which either live in or visit Scotland for Recreational Sea Angling (RSA)

Many of my colleagues south of the border are involved with consultations with DEFRA as Recreational Sea Anglers are acknowledged as major stakeholders by the UK and Welsh governments. They have recognised the importance of recreational sea angling; recognize sea anglers as stakeholders in the management of fish stocks, the significant contribution that RSA makes to the economy and the enjoyment it brings to many people.

In the latest edition of Defra magazine “Fishing Focus” Defra states Work on the first recreational sea angling strategy for England and Wales is underway.
The recreational sea angling sub-group of Defra’s Inshore Fisheries Working Group, which is preparing the strategy, met last month to discuss the first draft.
Anthony Hynes, Defra’s Coastal Waters Policy Adviser and the chairman of the sub-group, said, ‘We made good progress at the first meeting because of the constructive way that commercial and recreational stakeholders engaged in the debate. Working together in this way is the key to making the strategy a success’.
The aim of the strategy will be to ensure that the needs of recreational sea anglers are reflected adequately in fisheries policy, both locally and nationally

Up till now the Scottish executive has failed to recognize any of the above.

Our members believe the Scottish executive fisheries groups are totally out of touch with what is actually happening to our inshore fisheries as shown by Mr. Finnie’s quote to an MSP “Indeed, I would dispute your constituents suggestion that Scotland’s inshore commercial sector is guilty of over exploitation. The industry is quite rightly strictly regulated and, whilst not suggesting that there is no further room for improvement, the major part of the industry is clear that the long term viability of fishing and the communities that it supports depends on the coherent, environmentally responsible, strategically minded and very careful management.”

The truth is many species once regarded as abundant only 20 years ago, are now seriously depleted or almost absent within the South West and the West of Scotland. Regrettably the following species can now be regarded by anglers as locally extinct namely, Cuckoo Ray, Spotted Ray, Blonde Ray, Dragonet, Spur dog, Turbot, Brill, Poor Cod, Pouting, Hake

Species that are caught less often and then usually juvenile fish.
Haddock, Cod, Dabs, Conger, Thornback Ray, Red Gurnard, Tub Gurnard, Coal fish, Plaice and

The only species that seem to be growing in numbers are LSD’s, immature Whiting, and to a lesser degree Bass and Smoothound which are thought to be increasing because of global warming.

Anecdotal evidence, competition landings and indeed commercial landings show that stocks are diminishing year by year.

If management measures aren’t put in place then a valuable resource will dwindle and could be lost forever and Scotland PLC will lose many millions of pounds from its economy.


There is a need to realign management objectives to deliver ‘Best Value’ from the management of Scottish fish stocks as the Scottish executive is failing to realise the potential.

The main problem is of an age old tradition, which deems that our fish stocks only function is to support the needs of the commercial fishing industry. and only environmental considerations can be taken into account.

Although the opportunity for Angler involvement in the Inshore Fisheries Group (IFG) was mooted earlier, in a recent letter to Alex Fergusson MSP, Ross Finnie (referring to the Executive’s Strategic Framework for Inshore Fisheries) has written

“However I must stress that the Strategy’s primary concern is commercial, not recreational, sea fishing and an IFGs executive committee • tasked with developing management plans for the area’s commercial fisheries • will be made up exclusively of commercial fishing representatives”

And although Mr Finnie had previously suggested that the path for RSA to follow would be through Tourism, he goes on to write

“VisitScotland • the national tourism organisation • does not consider RSA to be a large contributor to the sector, so has no plans for further sector development”,

The SACN finds the above unacceptable and have yet to receive an answer, despite being asked a number of times, from Mr. Finnie as to why RSA is considered in such a different light by DEFRA and many other countries round the world.

In many examples in Scotland there are a far greater potential for social and economic value if the management objectives were to be aligned to produce a ‘product’ that would benefit the development of the valuable Recreational Sea Angling sector.
And that such management would produce a far greater ‘Best Value’ return to the wider economy, ultimately benefiting all citizens of ‘Scotland PLC’.

Primarily the Recreational Sea Angling sector needs not only quantities of fish of the species of interest to anglers, but large fish too. For example, specimen sized Mullet in Scottish waters will be 15 • 25 years old, Tope 40-50 years old, and when mature fish are removed it takes nature decades to produce replacement specimen fish.

A healthy local population of big fish of certain species, providing many livelihoods for angling charter skippers, tackle shops, bait suppliers and many others whose livelihoods depend upon servicing the needs of Recreational Sea Anglers, and contributing significantly to a coastal rural economy can be destroyed for minimal value by the commercial sector.

Happily, the kind of management needed to produce an angling, rather than simply a commercial 'product' also align well with the long term conservation needs of most species. Anglers want to catch larger specimens, which happen to produce far more and healthier fry, resulting in more available fish for the commercial Industry. It really is a win win situation


Scotland has four special regions all with different species that require immediate attention, not just for RSA but to help species that haven’t changed for 400 million years and that are in danger of being eradicated according to the IUCN. All these species carry at least an IUCN vulnerable status up to the critically endangered tag allocated for Spur dog and Common skate. These four fisheries are estimated to bring over £20 million pounds to the Scottish economy; much of this income is from English and foreign anglers. All are fished for on a catch and release basis and many anglers are involved in helping the scientists by collecting tagging data.

1, Luce Bay and the Solway support a healthy population of Tope during the summer months and are targeted by thousands of charter and private boat anglers. At present there are two longliners fishing for them; hopefully we can get these vessels stopped quickly. Are we going to allow the same eradication that occurred to the Spurdog in the eighties? Tope are typical "elasmobranches" with a slow growth rate, high age at first maturity, low fecundity (i.e. low number of offspring); and long gestation period, which contribute to a low rate of population increase. This makes them particularly vulnerable to fishing pressure. It is generally accepted that fishing for mature female sharks can lead to extreme sensitivity in the stock dynamics and subsequently a risk of severe depletion

A ridiculous situation is developing where it will be legal to kill tope in the Scottish side of the Solway but illegal on the English side. The Cumbria SFC fisheries officer is concerned that tope will be caught in his region but declared to have come from the Scottish side of the Solway.

Recently a tope was sent to the market that weighed 110 pounds. It raised £4.50 at the market and cost the fisherman £3 for the auction, therefore a fish that was 24 pounds over the British record sold for just £1.50. How, can this be allowed to happen?

As a result of a scare by a Lowestoft fish merchant to target the tope on a national level and sell their fins to the Asian market a conservation group “Save our Sharks” http://www.save-our-sharks.org/e107_plugins/forum/forum.php was born and they and the Shark Trust, http://www.sharktrust.org/default.asp?home=1 have been lobbying the UK government for protection.
Defra have acknowledged that they need to bring in legislation to conserve the stocks and a consultation has just started. If successful this will make the tope the first ever recreational species in Europe.
Details @ http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/tope/index.htm
Angling campaigners have managed to have the NESFC and the Eastern SFC pass a byelaw preventing the removal of tope and others SFC’s are expected to follow shortly. Sussex SFC are going a stage further by stopping the removal of all large sharks and are increasing minimum and maximum landing sizes on Rays and Smoothound.

2, Scrabster • The Porbeagle sharks congregate in the North of Scotland each winter and the numbers are kept in check by commercial longliners often from out with Scotland. There is no management for the severely depleted Porbeagle shark population in the Northeast Atlantic, other than the imposition of quotas for Norwegian and Faroese landings from European Community (EC) waters. This stock is assessed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. They are extremely slow at regenerating as the females usually give birth to litters of just four pups of 70 - 80 cm total length. The length of the pregnancy is still uncertain; estimates vary from a minimum of eight months to as long as 18 or even 24 months (which would not be exceptional for sharks).
The potential for this development is huge as many UK anglers travel thousands of miles to catch sharks when they could be fishing on our own doorstep.

3, The Firth of Lorne and the Sound of Mull has become the centre of a huge recreational angling fishery for the Common skate, which is not so common any more. The IUCN put the fish as critically endangered and work is going on by the Shark Trust and others to try and get some protection under the Countryside and Wildlife bill.
The common skate has now disappeared from most of its range (Northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea) owing to over fishing and bycatch. Urgent action is needed to define non-trawling areas and impose mesh size regulations to avoid capture of eggs.

4, Loch Sunnart and Loch Etive attract both shore and boat anglers for the Spur dog, which is a small shark whose stock levels are down to 5% of its initial biomass. The ICES recommended a zero catch for 2006 but their advice was ignored by the CFP An English longliner has been targeting the Spurdog in Loch Sunnart recently and early indications are, that this is already effecting RSA catches and income for the area will fall proportionally. Shoals 5 miles across used to be found all over the West Coast of Britain just 20 years ago but these have been reduced to a few strongholds in the deep Scottish lochs. They are now locally extinct for much of the West Coast of Britain and with increased commercial pressure could be come extinct even in the Scottish lochs. Handled correctly this region could provide the springboard for the regeneration of the Spurs.

We are blessed with some great inshore Pollack fishing, up the west coast of Scotland and they also seem to be increasing in numbers on the North and East coast. Many anglers (and there are thousands that fish for Pollack as they are a true sports fish) are happy to fish for them on a catch and release basis.
Pollack are a very territorial fish living in the same bit of rough ground/wreck all summer and marks can easily be wiped out by any sustained angling or commercial pressure. Once the big fish are removed from a mark, it doesn't fill up again with big fish until the small fish grow, which can be a number of years.

The SACN feel it is important we try to protect them and history has shown despite intense angling pressure, marks can be sustainable year after year, providing fish are returned.
As fish stocks dwindle, it is only a matter of time before the Pollack is targeted and reports from certain areas of Ireland show it doesn’t take long to reduce the population to just small fish. In the long term restricting anglers to take home limits might be necessary, but for now we feel the way forward is through education, therefore we are requesting that the executive
produce pamphlets and posters to be displayed in prominent places, informing anglers how important the Pollack stocks are to local economies and why it is so important to return fish..


Bass are on the increase in Scottish waters due to a Northern migration and with careful management could be developed for the benefit of RSA and commercials. We would like to see “The Bass Management Plan” incorporated. Details at http://ukbass.com/bassmanagementplan/index.html Phase one is to increase the minimum landing size from 38cm to 45cm. so all fish will have had a chance to breed.
Phase two which will open for consultation shortly will include, 1) proposals for inshore gill net restrictions within 1 mile of the shore. 2) a closed season - to protect bass when they are ready to spawn. 3) Stronger laws for nursery areas to further protect immature bass. 4) The introduction of COMMERCIAL licensing and the use of carcass tags, to reduce the current high level of illegal netting and sale of 'illegal' bass.
All of these conservation proposals will be increase the number and size of bass in our coastal waters, and will ensure bigger and more Bass for both commercials and RSA.
The BMP will help stop the constant problem in areas like Torness power station, which has a die hard group of unlicensed commercial fisherman targeting the immature Bass and selling them to local restaurants.


Many fish move into the shallow sandy bays in the spring to breed or lay their eggs. Species like the rays are an easy target for commercial fishermen, in nets held tight to the bottom. Once the Rays have laid their purses they will feed vigorously to rebuild their strength before moving back into deeper water. A closed season during this period would ensure the rays have a chance to complete their breeding cycle The commercial fisherman could target the rays as they move off into deeper water; they would catch the same number of fish but the next generation would have a chance to continue the sustainability of the species.

Female Spur dog become more vulnerable as they move closer to the coastline to give birth to 8-10 live young. By taking out the heavy gravid females, the future of the next generation is destroyed. Restricting commercials fishing for just a few months would ensure the pups have a chance to flourish, helping the sustainability of the species. The Spur dog are at 5 per cent of their original biomass and the ICES have asked for a zero catch for 2006


RSA cannot understand how it is possible to develop sustainable fishing without giving all species a chance to have bred at least once. We would therefore like to see a minimum landing sizes raised for all popular Recreational species like the Mullet, Conger, Haddock, Wrasse, Pollack, Rays, Bass, Cod, Plaice, Dabs and Ling.

There is also a proven argument for incorporating a maximum landing size as larger fish produce more and healthier eggs which are more likely to have a successful progression into adulthood. For example a four pound codling may produce 2 million eggs whereas a forty pound cod will produce 10 million eggs


Most species either breed within a mile of the shore or lay their eggs/live young in the shallow inshore reefs. There is no doubt that trawling and dredging destroys these reefs which are the very places young fish use to grow and develop. Because of this RSA would like a complete ban all commercial activity apart from pots/creels as this is the only way to give immature fish a chance to develop. Coincidentally, a group of creel fisherman is asking for the same mile ban.


As the Cod and Haddock shoals diminish, other once less popular species become the target for the ever growing needs for fresh fish. Who would have thought ten years ago that Coalfish/Saithe would be promoted by the supermarkets?
RSA fear that in time, species that are now mainly caught as a bycatch or for pot bait will become a commercial target and would therefore like the following highly sought after angling species designated as recreational species only; Conger, Skate, Mullet, Wrasse, Pollack, Tope, and Smoothound. It is worth remembering that none of the above have any commercial history so by categorizing the above species as recreational species only, would not cause any financial hardship to anybody and the likelihood is, that it would create many jobs in the recreational sector.

Recreational Sea Angling is “Big Business” on which many livelihoods are dependent; charter boat skippers, tackle shop and tackle manufacturing staff, bait diggers and bait suppliers, hotels, petrol stations... the list goes on, certainly thousands of tourist driven jobs, often in those rural coastal communities where there is little scope for diversification in employment and economic activity,

RSA needs realignment of fish stock management objectives to produce a 'product' that will delight both Scottish and visiting anglers. How is that to be accomplished by representation through an agency that knows considerably more about Scottish castles than it does about the inshore biology pertaining to Tope and Bass? The ATDG can hardly be expected to put fish in front of anglers on the beaches; to realise the full development potential of the Recreational Sea Angling sector, the Scottish Executive needs to understand the specific needs of the sector, including the fishery management options which will add value to the ‘angling experience’, delighting anglers and attracting visitors to Scotland’s coasts and to recognize RSA as stakeholders in fish stock management

Defra and many countries around the world recognise RSA as important stakeholders in stock management and we have been involved in many consultations on the new marine Bill and other issues.

How refreshing it was to receive this quote in a letter from Ben Bradshaw, the English fisheries minister; “On the subject of recreational sea angling, I recognise the importance of recreational sea angling, the significant contribution that it makes to the economy and the enjoyment it brings to many people. In recent years I have met periodically with representatives of sea angling and vessel chartering interests to discuss matters of mutual concern. I also recognise sea anglers as stakeholders in the management of fish stocks. Sea angling is a selective, environmentally friendly and low impact fishing activity. I recognise the important contribution that recreational angling and associated activity can make to the coastal economy and I subsequently commissioned an economic evaluation of that contribution.”

The Scottish executive must recognise the above quote and sanction an economic survey for any development within Scottish Recreational Sea Angling and invite the SACN and SFSA as stakeholders to the recently formed Inshore fisheries groups. Failure to do so may result in the four species mentioned for immediate attention disappearing from our shores, perhaps for ever, and the rapid decline in other inshore species continuing resulting in the loss of many millions of pounds to the Scottish economy.

Mr. Finnie confirmed on 12 April 2004 in response to Parliamentary Question S2W 15296 from Mr. Alex Johnstone MSP that the Executive is considering the possibility of commissioning a report on the economic impact of sea and inshore and inshore angling in Scotland. In a letter to the SACN Mr. Finnie stated “I expect the decision on whether or not to go ahead with the report will be made in the near future and I will write to you again at that stage to make you aware of the outcome.

RSA is still waiting.

Ian Burrett
Scottish regional co-ordinator for the SACN


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