For many components of marine ecosystems, the derivation of biologically significant, operational “pressure” indicators will rely on modelling fishing mortality from indicators of anthropogenic “activity”. This essentially expands the well established Pressure–State–Response framework to one of Activity–Pressure–State–Response. Within the Common Fisheries Policy, the reporting of fishing effort data, the basic indicator of activity, is not mandatory. A modelling approach is therefore developed that utilizes the data that fishers are obliged to report (days absence from port, landings from each rectangle fished, and the gear used) to provide modelled estimates of fishing effort. The model is parameterized for the Scottish demersal fishing fleet using data collected through the Scottish discards observer scheme, and fishing effort over the period 1997–2004 is modelled. Reported effort data for the period 1960–1998 allowed validation of the model through direct comparison of modelled with reported data in 1997 and 1998. Combining the modelled and reported datasets revealed that Scottish fishing activity levels, remarkably constant over four decades, had declined markedly since 2000. Temporal trends in UK quotas for the main targeted demersal species are considered to assess the effectiveness of catch limitation management as a means of regulating fishing activity. Spatial patterns in effort by the four main gear types used by the Scottish demersal fleet are described, and in general terms, these have changed little over the period 1960–2004. However, distinct spatial patterns emerged in the temporal trends in each ICES rectangle, associated with the recent overall decline in Scottish demersal fishing activity. These patterns were not intuitive, and the implications of this for an ecosystem approach to management are discussed.