Scottish pelagic data collection scheme paves way for a sustainable future

Scottish pelagic data collection scheme paves way for a sustainable future

Dr Steven Mackinson, the Chief Scientific Officer of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association (SPFA), says the collaborative approach now adopted between the pelagic industry and science bodies on data collection represents a major sea-change in fisheries management that sets the standard for others to follow.

Since 2021, Scottish pelagic fishermen have adopted a new hands-on role in collecting data, the information from which 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 assessments are then used to make management decisions, including fishing quotas for the following year.

This innovative collaboration was developed by the SPFA, Shetland UHI and the Marine Directorate of the Scottish Government.

Just recently, SPFA also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) on working together on scientific research and its application to fisheries management. The MoU outlines how SPFA and Cefas will work in partnership to maximise the benefits on the collection and analysis of scientific data on pelagic stocks, as well as the development of science research.

Commenting on these initiatives, Dr Mackinson says: “The Scottish Pelagic Industry Science Data Collection programme developed by the industry in partnership with Shetland UHI and Marine Directorate of the Scottish Government has become the primary source of data provided by Scotland for ICES to assess stock status and advise on sustainable fishing opportunities for mackerel, herring and blue whiting.”

Dr Mackinson maintains that sustainability is a fundamental principle uppermost in the minds of Scottish pelagic skippers, which bodes well for the future.: “For skippers, the philosophy and practice of sustainable fishing is second nature because it is embedded in their business plans,” he says.

“Sustainable fishing means fishing at levels where exploitation doesn’t surpass productivity or damage the integrity of the marine environment in a way that might compromise that.

Fishing is vital for our future because if managed properly, it provides a renewable supply of highly nutritious food, which is very important when you consider that a significant proportion of the world’s food protein consumption comes from fish. With a global population undergoing stellar growth, we must meet the huge challenge of feeding our planet while safeguarding natural resources for future generations.

“Furthermore, the industry is keen to show its sustainability credentials, so buyers and consumers can be reassured that the fish they choose comes from a responsible source. Everyone in the seafood chain has a responsibility to contribute information that can lead to improvements in fisheries management and market practices that support the sustainability of fish stocks and the industry that depends upon it.”

In 2022, SPFA’s sister organisation, the Scottish Pelagic Sustainability Group (SPSG) won the MSC UK Ocean Leadership Award in recognition of the industry’s data collection initiative.

Dr Mackinson says: “Receiving the Ocean Leadership award was a fantastic accolade for the hard work put in by the crews and skippers of Scottish pelagic vessels dedicating their efforts to help improve the quality of scientific information used the stock assessment of herring, mackerel and blue whiting. In a nutshell, the better the data, the better the management, which in turn ensures a sustainable future.

“The initiative has helped facilitate collaborative and partnership working modes, which is a major contrast from previous ‘top-down’ methods of fisheries management.

“This has helped develop a shared understanding of needs, as well as dispel prejudices and myths that the industry is only in it for the short-term.”

There are other plus-points that further underline the Scottish pelagic sector’s sustainability credentials, including the recognition that it has one of the lowest carbon footprints when compared to other types of protein food production.