THE Scottish Government has banned industrial sandeel fishing in a bid to ensure the long-term survival of species such as puffins.

While Scottish vessels had already ceased to fish for sandeels, many European vessels continued the practice in Scotland’s waters.

Danish vessels, in particular, were responsible for 94% of sandeel fishing in Scotland, with the catch largely being used in animal feed.

Mairi Gougeon, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands, said the decision contributed to a more sustainable management of Scotland’s seas.

“Sandeel are a vital part of our marine ecosystem and a critical component of the food chain in the North Atlantic,” she said.

READ MORE: Farmed Scottish salmon should not labelled 'organic', say charities

“It is critical that we manage our marine environment in a such a way as to ensure its sustainable use, protecting biodiversity and ensuring healthy functioning ecosystems.

“Prohibiting all vessels from fishing for sandeel in Scottish waters will help provide long term sustainability and benefits not just for sandeel but also for seabirds, marine mammals and other fish species.

“This decision reflects overwhelming support for our proposals, the scientific evidence base and our longstanding position not to support fishing for sandeel as set out in Scotland’s Future Fisheries Management Strategy.”

The decision comes after a consultation on a ban was launched last year, with 97% of respondents supporting a ban of the practice in Scottish waters.

The Scottish Greens welcomed the ban and proclaimed it to be a “proud day for puffins”.

Ariane Burgess, the party’s spokesperson for coastal communities, said it would be a boost for many species who rely on sandeel within their diet.

The National: Puffin in flight

“This is a huge boost for our seas and a proud day for Scotland’s puffins, kittiwakes and other iconic seabirds.

“Sandeels are a vital life source for the seabirds who depend on them, and this will ensure a far greater and more sustainable supply in the future while better protecting our marine environment.

“Scotland’s fishers already stopped this destructive practice, with the vast majority being done by Danish vessels.

“It is right and fair that the ban has been extended so that we can better protect our vital marine life.”

The RSPB had long campaigned for a ban across the entirety of the UK.

The Scottish Government’s announcement coincides within the UK Government’s intention to close Area 4 of the North Sea in English waters for sandeel fishing.

READ MORE: Highland Wildlife Park issues update as search for monkey continues

RSPB Scotland director Anne McCall said: “With over 70% of Scottish seabird populations in decline, ending industrial sandeel fishing is the single greatest action that can be taken to support our most vulnerable seabirds right now.

“It will build their resilience in the face of Avian Flu and the multitude of other human made pressures they face, such as climate change and offshore developments.

“Sandeels are a key food source for seabirds and other marine wildlife but have been adversely affected by both climate change and unsustainable fishing, so this is a very positive and welcome measure for the overall health of our seas.”

The latest data suggests that Scotland’s puffin population has declined by at least 21% over the last 20 years, with climate change, invasive predators and lack of food all highlighted as pushing the species towards potential extinction in the UK.

The National: