Working together to manage Scotland's fish stocks

Working together to manage Scotland’s fish stocks

By Dr Steven Mackinson, Chief Scientific Officer, Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association

Scotland’s fishing industry will take a new hands-on role in collecting the data used to make yearly management decisions about herring, mackerel and blue whiting stocks (collectively known as pelagic fish).

Since the 1970s the Scottish Government has collected data on the catches of pelagic species, mainly from fish obtained from processers when the vessels land their catch.  Now fishers will collect fish samples on-board directly from their individual hauls and will supply these to scientists for analysis.

This collaboration has been developed by the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association (SPFA), Shetland UHI and the Marine Scotland directorate of the Scottish Government.

“The Scottish pelagic industry recognises that engagement in science is more important now than ever,” commented Ian Gatt, chief executive of the SPFA. “Taking new responsibilities for providing scientific samples is seen by the industry as a welcome opportunity to directly contribute to the continuous improvement of stock assessments.”

The programme has proved popular, with almost all Scottish pelagic fishing vessels volunteering to take part in the data collection programme.

“The strong uptake from industry strengthens the evidence base; improving insight into the health of these fish stocks and the state of Scotland’s marine environment,” commented Matt Gubbins, Head of Fisheries Data within the Scottish Government’s Marine Scotland directorate.

The information gathered by the sampling programme is used by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) to make yearly assessments of the status of these fish stocks. These stock assessments are then used to make management decisions including fishing quota for the following year; and the better the data, the better the management.

One of the major benefits of this collaboration is access to catches landed abroad. Fishers will deliver samples from their catch wherever it is landed, improving the quality of the data used for stock assessments.

Prof Jane Lewis, Principal and CEO Shetland UHI, commented: “We are delighted to see how the collaboration between SPFA, Scottish Government and ourselves has developed new ways of collecting scientific data to support improvements in fish stock assessments. The pelagic sector is of huge importance locally and working co-operatively with industry remains a key strategic aim for us.”

Involving fishers in data collection enhances the relationship between industry and science, creating a pathway for even closer collaboration in the future.

“The example here of the development of an industry-led pelagic sampling programme can serve as a role model for others intent on similar applications,” said Ian Gatt. “This new arrangement of collaborative sampling also gives scope for greater industry involvement and responsibility in scientific research in the future.”

The new collaborative sampling programme has been successfully implemented for the first mackerel fishing season of 2022.

This is a welcome partnership between Scottish fishers and our scientists, which will support the protection of valuable pelagic fish and, in turn, bring long term economic benefits,” commented Matt Gubbins.