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Sea Fisheries

Fish Stocks as a Public Asset

Sea fish within the Isle of Man territorial sea are a public asset. They are held by the Crown in right of the Isle of Man for the benefit of the public. As well as being a public asset, fish stocks are a shared natural resource not only in a domestic context but also transcending national and international jurisdictions. This means shared responsibilities, coupled with the need for cooperation, collaboration and fairness.

The Department's approach to fisheries management operates within this context. We will seek for the Isle of Man to play an active role within the cross-jurisdictional decision-making arena, not only because it is important for the Isle of Man's voice to be heard as international decisions are made on how sustainably to manage biological resources that are present or transient within the Island's territory, but because we have a responsibility to ensure that the principles underpinning those decisions take account of the Island's domestic responsibilities, as well as the aims and objectives of both the Isle of Man Government and stakeholders on the Island.

As a public asset, it is right that the opportunities to catch these fish are distributed fairly and are utilised sustainably whilst upholding the relevant international obligations of the United Kingdom that are extended to the Island.

DEFA’s Jurisdiction

The territorial jurisdiction of the Island was extended from the three-mile area to the territorial sea of the Island as it is today for all purposes under The Territorial Sea Act 1987 (Isle of Man) Order 1991 (of Parliament). This provision was repeated in section 1 of the Territorial Sea (Consequential Provisions) Act 1991 (of Tynwald).

Under the Territorial Sea (Consequential Provisions) Act 1991 (of Tynwald);

  • the land compromising the sea bed beneath the territorial sea of the Island is vested in the Department of Infrastructure; and
  • The Sea-Fisheries Act 1971 (of Tynwald), which established the legal powers to regulate fisheries within the 0-3 mile area of the Island’s territorial sea (prior to its extension), was thus construed in accordance with the extension of the Isle of Man territorial sea as specified. The Sea-Fisheries Act 1971 (of Tynwald) was later replaced by the Fisheries Act 2012 (of Tynwald).

Although the Island is a self-governing Crown Dependency, and is autonomous insofar as fisheries management is concerned, the Department recognises that a cohesive approach to fisheries management is required across the Irish Sea region. In order to support this cross-jurisdictional responsibility, and ensure that the UK’s international obligations are upheld, the Department has been party to a Fisheries Management Agreement with the UK Devolved Administrations since the territorial sea was extended in 1991 (more information about the Fisheries Management Agreement 2012 can be found here).

Fish Stocks as Renewable Resources

Sea Fishery resources (called ‘stocks’) are recognised as part of the Island’s natural environment and one of the largest living components of its Biosphere. Economic theory treats stocks of sea fish as renewable resources, meaning that (in theory) stocks will replenish to replace the portion depleted by harvesting.

Renewable resources, such as fish stocks, are at risk of depletion as a result of excessive industrial harvesting and poor regulation of other human activities that can impair the health of a fish population or its supporting ecosystem. Natural variation and climate change can also result in depletion of fish stocks.

Depletion has the potential to cause economic, social, and environmental decline in the overall value of fish stocks, particularly if fish stock abundance is reduced beyond the point at which it can effectively reproduce.

Economic value

The Isle of Man’s commercial fishing industry forms the foundation of, and contributes significantly to, the continued prosperity of many businesses and communities on the Island, including onshore processing and ancillary marine services such as marine engineering.

The economic contribution of fishing to the Island’s economy ranges between £10m and £20m in any given year (in terms of Gross Domestic Product), depending upon the abundance of fish and shellfish, and the value of the resulting seafood products. Fish stocks in the Island’s territorial waters, which are harvested by UK fishing vessels and landed into the UK, also generate an economic value to neighbouring coastal communities and the UK economy.

The territorial waters of the Island support a broad diversity of marine life, which in turn support several key ‘target’ fisheries, including;

  • king scallop (P. maximus)
  • queen scallop (A. opercularis);
  • edible crab (C. pagurus);
  • European lobster (H. gammarus);
  • common whelk (B. undatum);
  • herring (C. herangus); and
  • prawns/Norway lobster (N. norvegicus).

Our role

The Department’s responsibility, therefore, is to ensure that these important resources are sustained through effective regulation and control of activities in the Island’s jurisdiction that may have a negative impact on fish stocks and the wider marine environment. The Department’s statutory responsibilities are stated explicitly under Section 5 of the Fisheries Act 2012.

The role of the Fisheries Division is concerned primarily with the effective regulation of commercial fishing and the protection of important and/or sensitive marine ecosystems that are part of the wider marine environment, with the aim of ensuring that commercial harvests are kept within sustainable limits, and the impact of fishing does not impair the functioning of the wider marine ecosystem.

The Department exercises its powers under the Fisheries Act 2012 and the Wildlife Act 1990, which allows it to make regulations, bye-laws and orders (together called ‘statutory documents’) in order to control and effectively manage sea fishing activity. Further, all commercial fishing activity within the Island’s jurisdiction is prohibited except under the authority a sea fishing licence issued by the Department, which itself can contain conditions, requirements, limitations and prohibitions.

A key element of our role is effective enforcement of existing rules and regulations using desk-based tools and systems, as well as onshore and at-sea compliance-checks and inspections. The Department’s sea-going asset, the Fisheries Protection Vessel (FPV) Barrule, provides a platform for the Department’s officers to undertake compliance checks and enforcement throughout the Island’s maritime jurisdiction. You can read more about the FPV Barrule here.

Working in Partnership

Although the Department is ultimately responsible for ensuring its statutory responsibilities, the Fisheries Division aims to work in partnership with stakeholders in order to ensure that its approach and delivery is practical, effective, and considered.

Stakeholders include the Island’s seafood industry (catching and processing sector), exporters, environmental and conservation interests, as well as other Government Departments.

Partnership working in fisheries management is often called a ‘co-management’ approach. Co-management has been demonstrably effective in delivering positive outcomes for both stakeholders and the wider marine environment. Read more about our co-management approach here.

Our Strategic Approach

It is important for the Department to adopt a strategic approach to undertaking its functions, given the complex and often competing priorities under its remit and responsibilities. You can read more about our Future Fisheries Strategy here.

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