The dangers of illegal trout nets were demonstrated this week when a rare red-throated diver was killed and another trapped in the sea off Cunningsburgh.
A member of the public spotted the birds on Monday, which were caught in an almost invisible monofilament net close to the shore at Mail Beach, and reported the incident to the RSPB.
RSPB Northern Isles area manager Pete Ellis said the net was about 20 metres long with little grey floats along its length. The net was “not obvious”, he said, and had it not been for the birds it would have been difficult to spot.
Mr Ellis said: “In my view it was an illegally set trout net, which are incredibly dangerous to birds. Underwater monofilament nets are virtually transparent and the birds don’t see them.”
He said that red-throated divers, which are a highly protected species, nest on lochans but feed in the sea, where they catch sandeels. This makes them vulnerable to nets.
Convinced the net was illegal, Mr Ellis called the police. Police said there were two alleged offences: setting the net and killing the red-throated diver.
The species is rare nationally but Shetland is a “hot spot”, having about one third of the British population.
With the help of a passer-by, the net was retrieved from the sea. As Mr Ellis had suspected, one of the red-throated divers was dead and the other injured. There was also a dead shag entangled. Mr Ellis was able to cut the injured bird out and release it.
Now, he said, he wants to draw the public’s attention to the issue. Nets were a problem about 10 years ago but had not been much in evidence since then. He said: “It would be a real shame if these things are happening again.
“These nets are illegal and extremely dangerous to wildlife. We want to draw people’s attention to them … and [ask that people] report them to the police and RSPB, particularly if there are birds in them.”
Secretary of Shetland Anglers Association Alec Miller emphasised the group’s strong opposition to such practices.
“Sea trout are an endangered species, from our point of view” he said, “and we’ve been undertaking a restocking programme for nearly ten years. We would hope that people would be aware of that and not be setting nets to catch sea trout, particularly as it can have consequences like this.”
Shetland’s police chief Angus McInnes confirmed that setting nets close to the shore such as this was a form of poaching, as well as posing a danger to other wildlife.
He asked anyone with information about who may have set the net, or anyone who finds a similar net elsewhere, to contact Lerwick police on 101, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Rosalind Griffiths and Malachy Tallack