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Parliamentary debates and questions

S5W-22217: Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries)

Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party

Date lodged: 18 March 2019

To ask the Scottish Government, further to the answer to question S5W-21845 by Fergus Ewing on 12 March 2019, whether it will provide (a) the minutes of the meeting of 23 October 2019 and (b) further details regarding the proposals for the closure of the seasonal fishery.

Answered by: Fergus Ewing 2 April 2019

In response to part (a) of your question please see the following minutes from the meeting of 23 October 2019 which were produced by Defra officials. Please note that for data protection purposes names of those involved in the meeting have been redacted.

Queen Scallop Working Group Meeting

1. Welcome and Introductions

The Chair welcomed attendees and gave a brief summary of the agenda of the meeting.

1. IoM update on the state of Queen Scallops

The IOM provided an update on the current state of Queen Scallops in the Isle of Man (IoM). Key points raised were:

  • Decline in the landings of QS of 50mm, and decline in stocks from survey data.
  • Existing measures had continued to be implemented for the 2018 season.
  • New electronic app for mobile devices to achieve live catch data from fishermen introduced.
  • CPUE was lower than previous season, therefore scientific advice around setting catch limits remained the same.

It was added that juveniles were protected off the west coast, and that recruitment on the east coast had been seen by fishers.

ACTION : Defra to send IOM’s paper to QSWG members

1. Overview of the 2017-18 fishery

The MMO gave an overview of the QS fishery, looking at 2017-18 season and trends over the last 10 years:

  • For UK vessels QS were mostly found and fished for in Area VIIa with a smaller fishery in VIa.
  • Almost all vessels catching over 1t of QS were in these areas.
  • Increase in vessels, but significantly less landings.
  • The price of QS has also increased significantly, offsetting the reduction in landings.
  • Majority of vessels displaced by QS closed season are fishing for KS during the closure period.
  • VMS showed that the footprint of the fishing area targeted by QS vessels was decreasing in spatial extent from year to year.

ACTION : Defra to share the presentation with QSWG with the effort data split as requested.

A point was raised around the fact that VMS data does not take into account the type or amount of dredges the vessels are using, and it was felt that numbers of dredges on vessels had increased significantly. The MMO confirmed that CPUE doesn’t consider dredging effort as this category was not often completed in log books. There were also discrepancies in detail of log books i.e. either dredges per side or total. Cefas clarified that in order to incorporate dredge data into CPUE calculations, detail on the total dredge width, towing speed and time would be required to gauge the amount of sea bed swept. The IOM added that it was different in their waters as most vessels are trawlers, with only 6 licences for dredge vessels in the IoM.

Marine Scotland highlighted that no vessels had breached the formal season closure from 01 April to 31 June 2018, which was good news.

1. Update from the Queen Scallop Science Group (QS SG)

AFBI gave an introduction into the status of the fishery in NI and the creation of the QS SG. Key points were:

  • 53% of NI QS vessels are under 12m so no VMS and wouldn’t show on MMO spatial maps.
  • In ICES area 39E3 there was only a catch of 73t by NI vessels in 2017.
  • It was proposed that the QS SGwould sit under theICES working group ‘WG Scallop’. Given that the WG scallop were already doing work (landing activity, state of the stock etc) on KS need to avoid duplication. QS SG tasked to review data collection methods, development of surveys/ stock assessment, CPUE series, management in other parts of the world, and then recommend potential ways forward.
  • NI started QS survey work in 2013 in VIa and VIIa using a novel technique. The method used an underwater TV to count QS, then used different gear to determine best catch conditions.

Cefas clarified that at the minimum conservation reference (MCRS) size QS were mature, and around 2yrs old. An industry members added that QS do not have their full row at the 40mm MCRS, therefore a larger MCRS is required. A question was raised as to the survivability of discarded QS that are too small to retain.

ACTION : IOM to circulate survivability of QS discards study by Bangor University

ACTION : QS SG add survivability to work list

1. Management Measures

Closed Season/ voluntary measures

Defra gave an overview of the 2018 formal closed season from 1 April to 31 June, and the voluntary month of July, and sought views from the group around options for a 2019 closed season. The group agreed that a closed season was necessary as they felt that a closed season gives the juveniles a chance to grow, increases size of catch, and ensures a better product.

It was highlighted that some sectors of the industry would be keen to see a closed season for as long as possible but for this to be more successful it would need to be coupled with other measures such as an increased MCRS, a maximum number of dredges or length of vessels limit, and maximum catch in a certain period. Whilst the group agreed that more management was necessary, there were limits around what could be introduced voluntarily by industry.

Defra notified the group that work on QS was put on hold for at least the next three months due to the resources pressures of EU Exit scenario planning. It was agreed however that Defra could still be part of taking the formal closed season forward with the MMO and other Fisheries Administrations as a licence condition (as it was), but any other legislative work or organisation of this group would be paused. It was reiterated that although this was Defra’s position other FA’s could take things forward if they had capacity. Marine Scotland aired the view that given the fishery was the responsibility of all FAs, action across the board would be required for new measures to work.

The reliance on any potential voluntary measures was therefore all the more important, at least in the short term, and a question was raised around whether there was a role for processors to play in regulating the minimum landing size. It was felt that it may be an option for processors to take this forward, and one which should be explored with processors of which there are a maximum of 10, 4 from IoM and 6 from UK mainland. It was highlighted that any such arrangement would need fishermen to agree not to land undersized catch in France. It was also suggested that new gear to increase the size of gaps in dredges could assist in reducing the amount of smaller QS caught, and retain more of the larger QS although this would come at a cost estimated at approx. £20 000 per vessel. Evidence around the survivability of discarded QS would be needed to ensure any measures around improved selectivity were effective.

ACTION : Marine Scotland to share a paper on options available about restrictions on catch.

Industry members of the group agreed to work with processors to explore whether a voluntary increased MCRS could be applied for the UK. SWFPA agreed to host a meeting of interested industry parties to discuss how to take this forward. This included exploring the possibility of whether funding could be sought for alternative grading equipment, where it was suggested that Bill Lart may know more.

ACTION: Industry to set up a meeting with processors to discuss voluntary measures i.e. increased MCRS.

Another suggestion for the possible introduction of voluntary (non-regulatory) measures was for POs to establish common rules, such as those already in existence around marketing. These could be applied to all PO members with the potential for Government to apply them to non-sector members.

In terms of the closed season it was highlighted that IoM nets have a 3 month fishery July to Sept in IoM waters (0-12) with an 8 month closure for dredging from 01 Nov to 30 June. There were differing views over the duration and timing of the formal closed season for 2019, with considerations over spawning times and weather dependencies raised.

Given that no consensus could be reached during the meeting, the group agreed that two options for the formal closure period would be circulated to the wider QSWG. These were:

  • 01 April to 31 July
  • 01 March to 31 July (with IoM staying in 0-12 in July) .

The IoM stated that if the QSWG wanted the closed season to include July, which overlapped with the opening of the IoM fishery, a compromise might be for IoM vessels will stay within the IoM 0-12 during July.

Defra explained that if no consensus could be reached over email for the 2019 closed season, the timing and duration would be set the same as it was for 2018; 1 April – 30 June.

ACTION : Defra to circulate closed season options to QSWG for a decision.

A member of the group queried whether a 3 day fishing week could be introduced via a licence condition, in order to reduce fishers increasing their effort uptake after the closure.

ACTION : Defra to check with the MMO whether, theoretically, a 3 day week could be introduced via licence conditions (Defra cannot progress this work at this time).

Other Measures

The group were informed that an update would be provided to the Scallop Industry Consultation Group (SICG) on the VIIa QS fishery and the impacts the Western Waters effort limit has on this area. It was queried whether there were any other areas that could act as pressure relief during the QS fishery closure where it was reported that whilst Area IV has QS they were a different type (known as princess). The main pressure relief is in turning to the KS fishery.

The group questioned the amount of scientific information on QS, where Defra highlighted that one of the aims of the QC SG was to pull together all scientific information on QS, as well as look at what other areas are doing and identify gaps. Defra confirmed that the profile of non-quota shellfish stocks was increasing as well as the importance/ need for ensuring robust scientific evidence.

Of interest to the group was the IoM smart phone application for collecting data around dredge numbers, catch amount and time fished, which had reportedly worked well and which could potentially be applied to a wider area. Another potential source of QS data was to mirror a data collection method already in place for KS, whereby fishers provided a red or blue bag of caught scallops on which processors would either provide length measurements to Cefas or send the shells directly to Cefas for ageing. A similar initiative was also in place in the IoM.

ACTION : QS SG to look into the potential for introducing similar data collection methods/ sampling for QS.

1. AOBs

The future of the QSWG was raised, particularly whether members felt it would be appropriate to combine it with the SICG. Whist it was agreed that the 2 groups and issues they covered were linked, the preference would be to keep the groups separate but that the SICG would continue to include queen scallops on their meeting agendas.

In response to part (b) of your question, where you request further details regarding the proposals for the closure of the seasonal fishery. I can tell you that, as was the case in 2018, fishing for queen scallop fishery in ICES areas VIa and VIIa is to be prohibited for the months of April, May and June of 2019. The closure will apply to all UK licenced vessels and has strong support from the queen scallop industry.