Saithe – a not so Auld Alliance


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THE FRENCH have a taste for Saithe and the Saithe they are particularly fond of is Scottish. Nobody else in the EU lands anywhere near as much from Scottish waters – not even the Scots. As an hors d’oeuvre, Figure 1 below maps landings of Saithe – also known as Coley –  in 2013 taken from a series of ICES rectangles around the Shetlands.

Figure 1

A 5 x 4 grid of ICES rectangles with the Shetlands in the centre.

The grid consists of rectangles 49 to 52 E6, E7, E8, E9 and F0 and stretches from 60° to 62°N and 4°W to 1°E.

It measures approximately 120 nm N-S and 150 nm E-W; an area of some 18,000 square nm.

Each of the ICES rectangles, bounded by double lines, contains a grid of smaller cells representing the tonnes landed from the rectangle by the fleet in question, in this case tonnes of Saithe in 2013.

Following which, Table 1 presents the totals caught by the various national fleets in this area of sea, which lies around the Shetlands and all of which lies within the UK EEZ.

Table 1: 2013 Saithe landings from the area shown in Figure 1

Value based on average 2018 UK first sale price, Defra   

Table 1 reveals that France alone landed more than three times as much Saithe from these rectangles around the Shetlands in 2013 as the UK and over four times as much as Scotland.  But this snapshot of landings from just 20 rectangles in one year is just for starters.

Next, Table 2 provides a breakdown by EEZ of average annual landings of Saithe from the NE Atlantic between 2010 and 2016 by the relevant EU28 national fleets.

Table 2: Saithe landings 2010-2016 broken down by national fleet and EEZ

Just 6.7 per cent of EU28 landings were from the EU27 EEZ, with far and away the largest proportion (62.6 per cent) being taken from the UK EEZ, and the difference between the proportion taken from the UK EEZ and the proportion landed by the UK fleet being a modest 33.5 percentage points. In the particular case of Saithe, it is the Scottish part of the UK EEZ from which the bulk of landings are taken.

Not only was the French fleet the EU28 fleet to land the largest share of Saithe (39.9 per cent), despite very little Saithe being landed from the EU27 EEZ and almost none of that from French waters, it landed 56 per cent more Saithe from the UK EEZ than did the UK fleet and it landed over twice as much Saithe from the UK EEZ as the Scottish fleet. Yet another triumph for relative stability.

Thanks to its Northern Agreement with Norway, which offers specified fishing opportunities for EU and Norwegian fleets in each others’ waters, the EU28 caught between four and five times as much Saithe in Norwegian waters as they did in the EU27 EEZ, with Germany and Denmark being the major beneficiaries. Germany, for example, landed almost three times as much Saithe from the Norwegian EEZ as the UK.

Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch, whether of Saithe or anything else, and Norway does not offer EU fleets opportunities to fish in its seas for nothing. It gets something in return and what it gets are fishing opportunities, including the opportunity to fish for Saithe in the EU28 EEZ. Norway has not been backward in availing itself of these.

And so to Norway

Unlike the EU, the publicly available database of Norwegian fish landings does not  specify the ICES  rectangle from which a catch was landed. However it does provide a breakdown by  EEZ and Division.

In the case of EEZ, because, for the period being considered here (2010-16), the UK was a member of the EU, the Norwegian figures do not specify the quantities landed from the UK and EU27 EEZ but rather simply state a single figure for landings from the EU28 EEZ. For the period 2010-16, average annual Norwegian landings of Saithe from the EU28 EEZ were 18,263 tonnes.

In parallel, the Norwegian database also provides totals for the quantities landed from all the Divisions in which there is EU28 EEZ. Table 3 presents the quantities landed from each of these Divisions together with notes on how the Division splits between EEZs.

Table 3:   Norwegian Saithe landings 2010-16 from the EU28 EEZ

The tonnages assigned to the UK EEZ in Table 3 are really little more than guesstimates arrived at by assigning landings to an EEZ in proportion to its share of the surface area of the Division in question. The alert reader will have noticed that all cannot be right, since the total assigned to the UK EEZ in fact exceeds the total the Norwegians landed from the EU28 EEZ. This is partly because the percentages of a Division assigned to an EEZ are an approximation and partly because the underlying assumption—that stock/effort is evenly spread over an area—is not necessarily true. That, however, will form the subject of a future article.

For present purposes, it is sufficient that Table 3 provides an indication that quite a lot of the Saithe landed from the EU28 EEZ was actually landed from the UK rather than the EU27 EEZ

The fact that, as Table 2 shows, the EU28 landed over nine times as much Saithe from the UK EEZ as from the EU27 EEZ suggests that it is largely in the UK part of the EU EEZ that Saithe are to be found and that, in all probability, that is where the Norwegians landed their Saithe from.

Finally, even assuming that all the Saithe (rather than the pro rata allocation used for Table 3) landed by the Norwegian fleet from the Divisions in which there was EU28 EEZ were landed from the EU27 rather than the UK or Norwegian EEZs, the maximum tonnage that could have been landed from the EU27 EEZ would be the sum of landings from Divisions 3a, 4b, 6a and 6b, i.e. 1,135 tonnes. Since we know the Norwegian fleet landed 18,263 tonnes from the EU28 EEZ and that at most 1,135 tonnes could have been landed from the EU27 EEZ, the very minimum amount landed from the UK EEZ must have been 17,128 tonnes, some 94 per cent of the total.

Futhermore, it  is  clear from Table 3 that much if not all of the Norwegian Saithe landed from the EU28 EEZ must have been landed from Division 4a. The EU/UK EEZ in Division 4a is in fact entirely Scottish.

These various lines of reasoning all point to the likelihood that the Norwegians have availed themselves of the opportunities afforded them by the EU’s Northern Agreements to land around 18 kt from the UK EEZ, some 3 kt more than the EU landed from the Norwegian EEZ and some seven times more than the UK catches from the Norwegian EEZ, since the EU has allocated the bulk of the Norwegian quota it has negotiated to fleets other than the UK—principally the German and Danish.

If this calculation is correct, Norway has been landing substantially more Saithe from the UK EEZ than the UK has. And it’s not as if the Norwegian fishing industry has any real need to catch UK Saithe. For the years in question, average annual Norwegian landings of Saithe were 171,728 tonnes. The 18,263 tonnes landed from the EU28 (in all probability largely UK) EEZ represented just 10.6 per cent of total Norwegian Saithe landings.

From the UK perspective, the EU’s Northern Agreement with Norway is, in so far as Saithe is concerned, a mechanism to pay for fishing rights for German and Danish boats with British fish; whilst another of the pillars of EU fishing administration, relative stability, has resulted in France being allocated far and away the largest Saithe quota for the EU28 EEZ, which it then lands from UK waters thanks to non-discriminatory access.

One possible future

Table 4 is one possible vision of the future. It reworks Table 2 but eliminates the reciprocal opportunities delivered by the Northern Agreement and allocates opportunities to EU28 fleets in proportion to landings from the UK and EU27 EEZs

Table 4: Reallocated Saithe landings based on share taken from EEZ

It is important to bear in mind that Table 4 is not intended to be a firm a forecast, it is an indicator of what might be if fishing opportunities were allocated on the basis of the share taken from the corresponding EEZ. It uses historic landing figures (2010-16) and UK 2018 first sale prices. It allocates 17.9 kt of Norwegian landings to the UK EEZ, 0.4 to the EU27 and it divides the UK and EU27 totals between the constituent fleets in the same proportion as currently. In the real future, some or all of these assumptions may not hold true.

All that being said, it provides an idea of what is at stake in relation to Saithe and how different to the present the future might be.


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