The Scottish government has leapt to the defence of a new net measuring tool that is causing consternation among fishermen.
Fisheries minister Richard Lochhead said tests on the electronic device, which replaced a traditional hand-held wedge-shaped block in September, had proved that it was reliable and trustworthy.
In reply to questions from Orkney MSP Liam McArthur, Mr Lochhead said: “In the field trials conducted by fisheries inspectors, in meshes of 55mm or more the measurements taken by the wedge gauge were on average 3mm greater that those measured with the Omega gauge using a force of 100N. There was no significant difference in meshes of less than 55mm.”
However Shetland MSP Tavish Scott accused the government of having introduced the new gauge without any consultation with the industry.
He also said the new gauge was too expensive, at £1,500 per unit, compared with £35 for the old wedge gauge.
He was raising the matter after being contacted by Burra fisherman Willie Robertson, who skippers the Comrades.
“The minister’s claim that there is little difference in measurements between the old and new gauges does not compare with some fishermen’s experience.
“The skipper of one Shetland boat reported to me that his net, which fisheries officers had passed as measuring 120 mm with the old gauge, measured just under 105 mm with the new one.
“So this is a back door way to cut the quantity of fish caught. In his case, the impact is going to have a serious effect on the viability of his boat.
“The minister’s replies to Liam McArthur’s questions confirm that the new gauges were expensive, costing ‘approximately £1,500 per gauge’ while the robust old wedge gauges cost approximately £35 per gauge when they were last purchased for enforcement officers some 15 years ago.”
Last month Victor Laurenson, skipper of the Radiant Star, was forced to return to Scalloway Harbour after fisheries protection officers boarded his vessel to inspect his nets.
Using the new device, they found a small three metre section of net was outwith the stated regulations. At the time Mr Laurenson criticised the gauge for giving false information.