Scottish proposal on sandeel closure: scientific evidence is inconclusive


The European Fishmeal and Fish Oil Producers (EFFOP) have submitted its response to the Scottish consultation regarding the proposal to cease sandeel fishing in all Scottish waters. We strongly urge the Scottish government to carefully consider the consequences, encompassing both economic and ecological aspects.

The Scottish government has suggested closing sandeel fishing in all Scottish waters. As part of this proposal, the government has conducted consultations, in which EFFOP has actively engaged. We urge the Scottish government to consider the far-reaching impacts, including economic and ecological factors.

EFFOP firmly supports that the Scottish government should adhere to the scientific advice provided by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). The proposal to close fishing in all Scottish waters diverges from the established scientific recommendations offered by ICES. ICES advises that evidence should be provided to demonstrate adherence to their recommendations, including the conservative setting of catch quotas to safeguard and ensure the availability of food for predator species, as outlined in the “Ecosystem Impacts” report.

Sandeel is a short-lived species that is not directly consumed by humans, but it contains vital proteins and fats essential as feed ingredients in aqua feed production. By producing fishmeal and fish oil from sandeels, we are supporting aquaculture production, thereby helping to address the food requirements of the world’s growing population.

The scientific evidence is inconclusive

EFFOP appeals the Scottish government to adhere to the available scientific evidence, which demonstrates that there is no clear evidence of negative or positive effects resulting from the closure of forage fisheries.

The scientific evidence provided in the Scottish consultations report is inconclusive, as exemplified by the quote: ‘Therefore, predicting the effect of further fishery closures on sandeel abundance and their availability to marine top-predators is difficult, as the effect of the closure could be concealed by other sources of mortality. This could be reflected in the data following 2000, as other factors such as environmental forcing or high natural mortality rates may influence sandeel abundances irrespective of anthropogenic pressures’ (Poloczanska et al., 2004)”.

These limitations in the available scientific evidence underscore the challenge of fully understanding the effects of fisheries closures on predator demography. For species like guillemots, razorbills, and puffins, Serale et al. (2023) demonstrated there is no clear evidence of negative or positive effects resulting from forage fisheries or their closures.

Shutting down sandeel fishing may shift fishing efforts to other species. Such imbalances in the ecosystem can have far-reaching consequences, disrupting the delicate interplay of species and causing biodiversity loss.

The proposal must consider the potential ecological consequences, particularly regarding seabird populations and the broader ecosystem.

Negative economic consequences should also be considered, including their potential impact on Scotland

The European Market Observatory for Fisheries and Aquaculture Products (EUMOFA) has recently unveiled its 2023 analysis regarding the production of fishmeal and fish oil. Notably, this study highlights the UK’s continued presence as one of the foremost importers of fishmeal and fish oil produced within the EU. Consequently, any decline in European fishmeal and fish oil production carries significant implications for both the UK and Scotland, underlining the interconnected nature of this industry and its potential impact on these regions.

European sandeel fishing has historically been pivotal for the global fishmeal market, supporting industries reliant on fish-based products. An abrupt cessation of this practice could disrupt supply chains, impact jobs, and set off a chain reaction affecting local economies – including in Scotland. To provide clear context of its expected impact, a landing of 100,000 tons sandeel contributes to production of 120,000 tons of farmed fish every year.

Read EFFOP’s response here: EFFOP response to Scottish consultation

Read more about the consultation here.