Fishing past and present: United Kingdom

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Fishing past and present: United Kingdom


Coastal or inshore waters play a major role for vital processes in the life cycle of fishing resources: many hatcheries, nurseries, and spawning areas of fish and invertebrate species are located in coastal zones and estuaries. In this sense, the European Commission has repeatedly expressed its concerns for the protection of the coastal or inshore fisheries within the 12 miles zone, at regular intervals. The coastal zones of all fishing nations have played a role as stable and continuous provider of food, resources and employment. In times of war and crisis, the coastal waters were the main source of fishing resources. As an example, the small strip of coastal waters has provided > 20% of all landings over the last century in the Belgian sea fisheries, and even 50% of all pelagic species and >60% of all molluscs and crustaceans. On average >1000kg/ha was provided from the coastal waters, whereas the southern North Sea (the second most important fishing area for Belgian fleet) has provided 100kg/ha on average. The role and importance of coastal or inshore waters (+/- 12 nm) in the livelihoods and socio-cultural development of our coastal communities is simply undeniable.

The Regulation of the new Common Fisheries Policy ((EU) No 1380/2013) entered into force in December 2013. The new CFP states that it should contribute to increased productivity and to a fair standard of living for the fisheries sector including small-scale fisheries. The CFP shall also promote coastal fishing activities, taking into account socio-economic aspects. In view of the precarious economic state of the fishing industry and the dependence of certain coastal communities on fishing, it is necessary to ensure the relative stability of fishing activities by allocating fishing opportunities among Member States, based on a predictable share of the stocks for each Member State.

Whereas the Green paper on the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (22.4.2009 – COM(2009) 163) suggested arrangements for the small-scale segment by direct allocation of quotas/ effort/collective schemes, it also suggested that public funding could help the small-scale segment strengthen their economic viability and maintain their contribution to the life of coastal communities. The Green paper put forward the idea of differentiated management regimes as a way of introducing social objectives. SSF and large scale fisheries (LSF) differ enormously in their environmental, social and economic impacts, therefore the Green paper recommended one management regime for LSF with capacity adjustment and economic efficiency and one for SSF in coastal communities with a focus on social objectives. Specific decisions concerning small-scale fleets should be taken as close as possible to the coastal community. However in the new CFP this is not mentioned.

The restriction of fishing opportunities in the 12 nm zone, which reserves Member States’ inshore areas to their national fleets, have operated satisfactorily. Whereas the Green Paper (22.4.2009 – COM(2009) 163) questioned if this specific regime could be stepped up to a specific regime for small-scale fishing vessels in the 12 nm zone, the current CFP Regulation states that Member States should endeavour to give preferential access for small-scale, artisanal or coastal fishermen.

There’s a need to document the importance of inshore/small-scale/coastal fisheries in a quantitative manner (“to measure is to know”) in order to be able to define those social objectives: not only now (what are the characteristics of inshore fisheries today in terms of employment, food resource, economic value compared to overall fisheries) but also in the past (what is the potential for the future?). Historical fisheries datasets are of key importance for studies on long-term changes in fisheries activities, fish stocks, fisheries communities,… Recovering the historical context of fisheries is necessary e.g. to document the cultural heritage of our coastal societies and to tackle the issue of ‘shifting baselines’ in a marine ecology context for fishing. A historical perspective can shed light on fisheries-related socio-cultural, economical and ecological changes over time e.g. how did scale enlargement and intensification throughout the 20th century affect fisheries? It can provide the reference(s) for setting baselines and goals for sustainable management.

The definition of IF as used in the GIFS project and in this report is:

United Kingdom: Vessels under 10m, operating in coastal waters typically out to 6 nautical miles (nm), but can be up to 12 nautical miles (nm), and to which the inshore management regime applies.

As definitions vary between GIFS partner regions and there is a need for comparisons across the GIFS data, a more general definition has been agreed for this purpose for Inshore Fisheries: Vessels operating within 12 miles of the coast. In this respect, a clear link with the spatial use of the marine waters is included in the definition.


The GIFS approach aimed to construct a common view of inshore fisheries throughout the project study area (Figure 1), and their relative importance in the sector as a whole (all fishing activities including offshore and large-scale fisheries). By means of an inventory of data sources and subsequent digitization, quality control, standardization and integration of historical data, this approach aimed to answer:

  • How did the inshore fleet and its activities change over time?
  • How did economic value, volume and composition of landings of inshore fisheries change over time?
  • How did employment in inshore fisheries change over time?
  • How do the trends and issues above relate to those in the fisheries sector as a whole?
  • What information sources are available to document the historical relevance of inshore fisheries in the study area from the parameters described above?
GIFS eligible area.png
Figure 1: Eligible areas of the INTERREG 2 SEAS cross-border programme

Method & Materials

Of particular use for this activity are datasets collected in a consistent way over a number of decades. However, historical time series are relatively scarce, especially for earlier periods. Moreover, if data exist, other problems often arise in terms of access, availability, data policy restrictions, inappropriate formats or insufficient reliability or quality. Different institutes have been contacted with a stock take on data-availability for inshore fisheries landings, value of landings and employment. This stock take contains questions concerning available datasets/publications, how far do these data go back in time, are these data in digital or paper format.

The institutions listed below, are key organisations in relation time-series on fisheries in the UK:

  • Marine Management Organisation (MMO)
  • Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS)
  • Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authorities (IFCA’s)

Also structured databases that allowed advanced querying on the basis of specific search terms (e.g. ‘fisheries statistics’) were screened for datasources on fisheries in Belgium, the Netherlands, France and UK (this is on-going work):


For each of the identified data sources (paper format and/or digital for recent years) from the stock take, a detailed overview table with information on available parameters/variables for inshore fisheries (landings, value of landings or employment), unit of measurement, temporal coverage/resolution, spatial coverage/resolution, taxonomic and other resolutions, physical location of datasource, availability is available.

Table 1 and 2 give an overview of the datasources for the historical data in fig. 1 and 2 and provide all definitions of inshore fisheries used within these sources.

Table 1 Overview of datasources for historical data on inshore fisheries landings & value of landings and definitions of inshore fisheries used within these sources
Region Period Identified datasources Definitions for inshore fisheries used within available datasources
UK 1907 - 1954 Sea Fisheries Statistical Tables [1] "Inshore landings include catches by second and third class vessels, and by first-class vessels, other than steam trawlers, which make voyages of not exceeding 72 hours duration” --> Based on the statistics here we will have an "inshore fisheries minimum: 2nd + 3rd class vessels" (underestimation because 1st class vessels < 72 hour trips are not taken into account) and "Inshore fisheries maximum: 2nd + 3rd class vessels + 1st class motor vessels" (overestimation because 1 class vessels > 72 hour trips are also taken into account)
UK 1955 - 1959 Sea Fisheries Statistical Tables "Inshore landings include catches by vessels under 40ft registered length, and by vessels, which make voyages of not exceeding 72 hours duration”
UK 1960 - 1964 Sea Fisheries Statistical Tables "Inshore" - all landings by vessels under 40 feet in length are so described”
UK 2000 -now MMO data Will have to be based on ICES Rectangles

Table 2 Overview of datasources for historical data on inshore fisheries employment and definitions of inshore fisheries used within these sources
Region Period Identified datasources Definitions for inshore fisheries used within available datasources
UK 2000 - now MMO data Will have to be based on ICES Rectangles