Shetland’s fishing industry is pioneering a new scheme designed to help conserve cod stocks while at the same time helping the fleet to deal with the tough economic climate.
New gear, including nets with larger mesh sizes that allow juvenile fish to escape, will be tried out by the Resilient, which is skippered by Arthur Polson, with a view to boats being able to “buy back” days at sea in return should it be a success.
The scheme, a joint endeavour between Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) and Marine Scotland Science, was launched in Lerwick harbour yesterday with £95,000 of funding from the Scottish Industry Science Partnership (SISP).
The trial is part of an initiative to help ensure fleets can make the most of buy back options under the days at sea regime and maximise their income during the downturn.
It is also a response to regulations brought in after last year’s EU Fisheries Council where cuts in fishing effort were introduced for vessels over 10 metres. The Scottish government secured an alternative that allowed cuts in days at sea to be avoided if vessels adopted new conservation measures.
Under the trial, boats’ current gear will be modified, allowing the front portion of a commercial trawler to incorporate nets with larger meshes of 300mm. Current net mesh sizes are between 150mm and 200mm.
As well as allowing juvenile fish from endangered species such as cod to escape, the nets will hopefully retain the more lucrative species, such as monkfish and megrim, which are vital to the Shetland fleet.
A fisherman for 23 years, Mr Polson said he hoped the new nets would mean a more efficient way of fishing. “We got involved to try and find out more about the value of bigger meshed nets and if it’s going to be a valuable option for groundfish – monkfish and megrim. I hope it works, I can see there would be a lot of pluses. As long as there aren’t too many negatives.”
SFA chairman Leslie Tait said that while the scheme was a sign of the positive steps being taken to help fish stocks, caution should be the watchword. He said that while the net trials are a positive step, their full impact is not yet fully understood.
Mr Tait said: “We’re glad to be doing anything that helps to enhance fish stocks. However our reaction has always been that new gear has to be properly trialled before boats can use them and that’s why we’re doing the trial.
“We need to know exactly what the gear does before fishermen start using it. I hope it works and I hope that fishermen take it up but other than that we can’t say at the moment.”
Also present at the launch were programme manager for the conservation credits scheme Stuart Baxter and Marine Scotland fishing gear technician Rob Kynoch.
Mr Kynoch said of the trial: “An important thing is it has come from the SFA and Marine Scotland are supporting that. It’s encouraging to see fishermen coming forward with ideas.
“We’re not saying one size fits all … we have to allow fishermen to decide what technology best suits them and having good data will allow them to make the right decision.”
Fisheries secretary Richard Lochhead said: “I recently visited Shetland and was very impressed with the way local crews are determined to come up with innovative solutions to local problems, helping to secure the long term sustainability of their resources. “Our funding is further proof of our commitment to work with and resource the fishing industry in pursuit of this goal. Today marks a significant step forward and is yet another example of Scotland showing leadership on the conservation front.”
The trials are due to be completed by mid-July and data will gathered from them, along with similar trials in Orkney and on the west coast, before any decision is made about rolling the initiative out across the whole fleet.