More than half of the main species landed by Scottish whitefish boats come from stocks about which there is a lack of proper scientific information, according to a review carried out by the NAFC Marine Centre.
The study found that of the 20 principal species landed, 12 were classed as “data-deficient”, meaning an assessment of the state of the stock is impossible; 14 had no scientific assessment; and 16 had no defined reference points.
The Scottish fleet landed some £40 million worth of fish from data-deficient stocks in 2010, one third of the value of all its landings.
NAFC senior marine policy adviser Ian Napier, who carried out the review, said: “The review has revealed the magnitude of the problem of data-deficient stocks. While everybody accepts that fisheries management should be based on sound science, the fact is that the necessary information is not available for many of the most important species caught be Scottish fishing vessels.”
Species which are classed as data-deficient include monks, megrim, ling and lemon sole, while whiting and hake lack reference points. Landings of monks alone by the Scottish fleet were worth some £25 million in 2010.
The issue of data-deficient stocks has gained prominence recently because the European Commission has attempted to implement a policy that would see quotas for stocks that lack scientific advice cut by at least 25 per cent.
NAFC head of marine science and technology Martin Robinson said: “Ian’s production of this report is timely, coming when we have just appointed a full-time observer to collect data for species important to the Shetland fleet where gaps in knowledge exist.
“The department here is committed to supporting the development of regionalised management systems that incorporate fishermen’s data into assessments where knowledge gaps are increasingly a thing of the past.”
Dr Robinson said there was a lot of progress and work required to achieve that, but for areas such as Shetland where fishing is so vital to the community, it was something that carried a great importance.