SNP ministers propose banning sandeel fishing to protect seabirds

Rural Affairs Minister Mairi Gougeon warned the species is a “critical part of the food chain” and vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Sandeels are an important food source for many species including marine mammals, seabirds and predatory fish.

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The proposed measure aims to support the broader marine ecosystem and could bring greater resilience to Scotland’s famous seabirds, some of which have experienced declines in recent decades.

Species heavily dependent on sandeels have suffered frequent and widespread brood failures; Kittiwakes and puffins are now threatened with global extinction.

The removal of sandeels, small oily fish, from Scottish waters – almost exclusively by EU trawlers – has been a problem for decades.

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Industrial trawlers, mostly from Denmark, haul thousands of tonnes of sandeels from the North Sea in Scottish waters to be processed into fishmeal and fish oil for commercial livestock farming and fish feed.

Ms Gougeon said: “Sandeels are an important part of our marine ecosystem and a crucial part of the North Atlantic food chain.

“The species is particularly vulnerable to climate change and the effects of ocean warming, but fisheries are putting additional pressure on it. Commercial fishing for sand eels is currently only done by European vessels, where they are then sold as animal feed.”

She added: “In recognition of the importance of the species to marine biodiversity, no fishing quotas have been allocated to UK vessels since 2021.”

“We are now taking conservation a step further by holding a public consultation over the summer on proposals to ban all commercial sandeel fishing in Scottish waters.”

“The Scottish Government remains committed to the vision of clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse seas, managed to meet the long-term needs of nature and people.

“I hope that all interested parties will take the time to give us their views at the beginning of the consultation.”

RSPB Scotland has been calling for action to address this problem for decades, insisting that ending industrial sandeel fishing would have minimal impact on Scottish fishing vessels.

Aedán Smith, Head of Policy and Advocacy at RSPB Scotland, said: “Closing Scottish waters to industrial sandeel fisheries is the single greatest action that can be taken at this time to support our most vulnerable seabirds.”

“Not only will it bolster their resilience to avian influenza, but it will also help them weather the multitude of other human-caused stresses they face.”

“We salute the leadership of the Scottish Government on this matter and call on the people across Scotland to raise their voices in support of this important proposed amendment to ensure that the industrial sandeel fishery is closed once and for all and ahead of next year’s fishery.” will be discontinued.” The season begins in April 2024.

“Scotland’s seabirds are in decline and face numerous threats. We must do everything we can to ensure a better future for them.”

Scottish Green Party spokeswoman for coastal communities, Ariane Burgess, said: “Sandeels are an important food source for our seas, particularly for puffins and our other famous seabird populations.

“Our oceans are under threat like never before, as is the wildlife that depends on them. Our seabirds need our help.

“Scotland’s fishermen have already phased out industrial sandeel fishing. It is fair and right that the ban be extended if we are to protect our vital marine life.”

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