The NAFC Marine Centre has just completed the annual stock assessment covering the shellfish stocks around Shetland and is pleased to report a more stable picture across many of the stocks.
The Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO) has been collecting data since 2000 through log sheets which licenced fishermen submit on a weekly basis. This data is then used by the NAFC to produce the stock assessment as well as by taking samples onboard local fishing vessels, at processing factories and vivier operators and through research using the NAFC vessel.
This report is the fifth annual shellfish stock assessment and adds to a series of data which is one of the best in Britain, if not Europe. The assessment looks at the stocks of crabs, lobsters, scallops and whelks and is one of the important tools used by the SSMO in making management decisions.
This year’s assessment has shown a large increase in the velvet fishery with a growth in landings to some 201 tonnes in 2008 which is double that of 2006.
Tagging work has shown that the brown crab population within the six-mile limit may be part of a much larger population which is more mobile than previously thought. More work is to be done to establish the size and geographic location of this wider brown crab population.
Lobsters, which have had a historical decline since the 1960s, have been shown to be relatively stable within Shetland, although additional effort to the fishery is not recommended at this stage.
Scallop populations in Shetland have become increasingly stable compared to stocks across other parts of Scotland, which is seen as very good news although not grounds for complacency because it could easily change.
The stock assessment work carried out by NAFC is said to be extremely important, not just to Shetland, but as part of the data used to monitor shellfish stocks across the UK. This has been a difficult year for the Shetland shellfish industry due to tight market conditions in the UK and Europe particularly in the scallop and brown crab sectors.
The SSMO, which manages the regulating order covering the Shetland inshore waters, is working to respond to some of the current issues within the inshore fleet by developing a stock management, quality and marketing project. Work is already under way on Marine Stewardship Council accreditation which it is hoped will create a big opportunity for the Shetland shellfish fleet.