New strategic partnership between SPFA and Shetland UHI will boost pelagic fish stock science

New strategic partnership between SPFA and Shetland UHI will boost pelagic fish stock science

The Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association (SPFA) and Shetland UHI have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a strategic partnership agreement that will enhance co-operation between the fishing industry and scientists.

Shetland UHI was formed on 1st August 2021 from the merger of Shetland College, Train Shetland and NAFC Marine Centre, and the new agreement will build upon the strong relationship previously forged between SPFA and NAFC Marine Centre.

The MoU, which covers the next five years, outlines how the SPFA and Shetland UHI will work together to maximise the benefits on the collection and analysis of scientific data on pelagic stocks, and the development of pelagic science research. It also further underlines the commitment of the Scottish pelagic sector to embrace science and ensure a sustainable future for the industry by participating in a range of programmes, including self-sampling.

The MoU covers:

  • Sustaining the pelagic self-sampling programme over the long-term so that it can routinely deliver scientific data relevant to the assessment and management of pelagic stocks.
  • Development of pelagic science expertise.
  • Identifying and developing new collaborative research initiatives that are consistent and mutually beneficial with respect to SPFA Science Plan and Shetland UHI strategy.

Dr Steven Mackinson, chief scientific officer for SPFA, says: “The MoU provides a way to demonstrate our commitment to building a strong working relationship between the pelagic industry and an established science institute, by clarifying why and how we intend to collaborate.”

“It is also an outward demonstration to government science and academic institutes of the commitment from the pelagic industry to professional scientific collaboration.” Dr Chevonne Angus, Joint Head of Marine Science & Technology of Shetland UHI, adds: “Under this MoU Shetland UHI has committed to further developing our collaborative scientific work with the pelagic industry.”

“Working in partnership with industry was central to the fisheries research activities that were undertaken at NAFC Marine Centre and this ethos continues under Shetland UHI.”

The scope of the MoU is far-reaching, and proposed activities include:

  • Identifying skills, resource and training needs to facilitate effective and efficient collaboration within scope of the MoU.
  • Sharing and development of relevant strategies.
  • Mapping connections and research priorities between the SPFA and other fishing industry associations, Shetland UHI, Marine Scotland, the International Council for Exploration of the Sea, the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland, and other relevant marine research institutions.
  • Facilitating wider collaboration on pelagic science issues with other stakeholders through meetings and workshops.
  • Developing joint proposals for pelagic research.

Short term objectives of the new agreement include securing the continuation of the pelagic sampling programme, which has been underway since 2018. This is seen as especially important, given that the management of this programme requires a strong commitment to ensure that it can deliver data for pelagic stock assessments over the longer term.

SPFA and Shetland UHI believe that the best course to ensure continuity and necessary development of the pelagic self-sampling programme is to establish an industry funded pelagic scientist post based at Shetland UHI, starting on 1 April 2022 and who will work closely with the SPFA. It is anticipated that such an appointment will help maintain and strengthen links with Marine Scotland Science for continued collaboration on pelagic self-sampling.

The new pelagic scientist will also have a key role in developing a pelagic fisheries research workstream at Shetland UHI through the prioritisation of opportunities and securing additional research funding.

Over the medium term of the agreement, research objectives include the development of specific collaborations on skills and methods for involving industry vessels in acoustic assessment of pelagic stocks. Historical data analysis is another area that will be investigated, where through working with pelagic skippers, it is hoped to collate, digitise, and map diaries and electronic records of fishing activity.

Dr Mackinson says: “Fishing skippers tend to keep diaries detailing where and when they fished and what they caught. This is currently unearthed data, and the knowledge it contains on changes in pelagic stocks and fisheries is likely to be useful for fishermen and scientists alike. It will complement contemporary data collected under the self-sampling programme and provide fishermen with means to bring their data to life so they can better track and interpret changes in catching patterns. Having a long history of data from across the fleet will be scientifically valuable to research on changes in the North Atlantic pelagic ecosystem.”

Ian Gatt, chief executive of the SPFA says. “We are delighted to have agreed this strategic partnership with Shetland UHI, which will further enhance collaboration between pelagic fishers and scientists, which in turn will increase our understanding of stocks and ensure their long-term sustainability.”