Proposal 4: Outer Hebrides
This proposal involves limiting the number of creels that fishing vessels may operate in a specific area of the Outer Hebrides' inshore waters. The full proposal form can be viewed at http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0052/00525817.pdf and an overview is provided in the consultation document. The proposal was developed by the Outer Hebrides RIFG.
The consultation asked four questions in relation to this proposal (Questions 13 to 16).
Question 13: Do you agree that the pilot proposal for the management of creel numbers around the Outer Hebrides should be taken forward by Marine Scotland?
There were 54 responses to this question, with 45 respondents (83%) expressing support for the proposal and 9 respondents (17%) opposing it.
The proposal received strong support from locally based organisations, including the main fishing association (Western Isles Fishermen's Association), fish processors (Kallin Shellfish and Kilbride Shellfish), and the Local Authority (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar).
The proposal also received wider support: from elsewhere in the fishing sector and from environmental organisations such as WWF Scotland and Open Seas.
Organisations who were opposed to the proposal included the Scottish Creel Fishermen's Federation, the North West Responsible Fisherman's Association and Kyleakin and Kylerhea Community Council.
Individual respondents who opposed the proposal appeared predominantly to be active fishermen based outside of the area.
Themes in supportive responses
I. Improve catch returns / improve stock
Many who supported the proposal believed that introducing controls on creel fishing effort would reduce the quantity of gear in fishing grounds helping to improve the health of the local fish stocks and marine environment.
"This area has seen a huge increase in the amount of creels deployed over the past 20 years. Catch per unit effort has decreased along the same period so something needs to change as the rural communities of the Outer Hebrides are very dependent upon there being a viable fishery in the Minches.
"As a fishing vessel owner who fishes for prawns using trawls from May to September and creels from October to April we are totally reliant upon a successful winter fishery to make our business viable. For years we have voiced concerns about the increasing effort or number of creels being deployed to return the same or often less catch, we desperately need some form of control on effort for the good of the fishery and the generations coming after us." [Individual response]
II. Fairer access to grounds
It was also felt this would help counteract people from 'ring-fencing' areas by leaving creels to soak in an area for long periods of time in order to hold that ground for themselves.
"Larger vessels have left thousands of creels/pots on fishing grounds for months on end whilst they move with additional gear to other areas, this prevents smaller boats from being able to access these areas, additionally when smaller boats are setting gear they are unable to determine what direction the larger vessels gear left has been set as the fleets are so long you cannot identify the other end, this brings gear into conflict." [Individual response]
III. Establish effectiveness of creel limits
There was also support for implementing the proposal as it would test whether limiting static gear fishing effort can improve the sustainability of the creel fisheries.
"It is my firm belief that if the aim of crab/lobster fisheries management is to protect stocks whilst also protecting the interests of the artisanal community based fleets then gear limitation is the best tool to use. ... I'd sooner make a living fishing 300 creels than the same living off 3000! Even better if 150 would do. I am confident that this proposal would produce data which would make my belief less anecdotal and more likely to be taken seriously." [Individual response]
Themes in opposing responses
I. Only impacting on static gear fishermen
The main criticism from those opposed to the proposal was that it discriminated against creel fishing. Some felt the proposal did not take account of mobile trawl fishing's contribution to the overall level of fishing effort for the Nephrops fishery.
"As far as Nephrops are concerned there is no mention of trawl effort whatsoever here. All the blame for lower CPUE is being placed on the creels which is ridiculous. It should be obvious that a successful management plan for a shared fishery must include a proportional reduction in all effort, not just creels." [Individual response]
II. Creel effort may increase
Some responses commented that, without limiting the number of vessels permitted to fish in the area, additional creel vessels could be drawn to the area – so there may not be any reduction or even an increase in fishing effort.
"There is a real danger that reducing creel numbers without capping the number of vessels will only result in more boats in any given area, which will result in more creels being hauled each day." [Individual response]
III. Displacement of effort
There were also concerns that limiting creel numbers in the Outer Hebrides' inshore waters could displace fishing effort outside the area.
"We are not sure what is going to happen to all the creels they are proposing will be removed from the pilot area. We are concerned that there may be significant displacement of creels to outside the pilot area and that could directly affect our membership both by causing more gear conflict and by putting extra pressure on already limited creel fishing areas." [Organisation response]
Question 14: What is your view on the possible impact, both positive and negative, of limiting permitted creel numbers based on vessel size?
I. Improve catch returns
The main positive suggested by respondents was that a creel limitation scheme could lead to a reduction in the overall level of creel fishing effort in the Outer Hebrides. It was hoped that this could ease fishing pressure on stocks and grounds, allowing them to recover and become more productive, which in the longer term could increase the overall catch per unit effort ( CPUE).
"Creel fishing is a very efficient method for catching shellfish, so much so that it can be detrimental to the stock in an area with a heavy concentration of gear. We have seen first-hand how quickly an area can become very productive again after being relieved of effort, this has given me so much encouragement and is a main reason as to why I feel so passionately that a creel limit would benefit us all in the long term." [Individual response]
"The most positive impact will be that catch per unit effort will improve when gear can be moved to fresh ground, allowing overfished ground to be rested. This will reduce the amount of gear that needs to be hauled to achieve the same grossing." [Individual response]
II. Fair allocation method
Other respondents commented in favour of the allocation method, believing it was the fairest option as it took into account the differing operating costs of smaller and larger vessels.
"A larger vessel tends to have more crew and more general overhead. It seems fair to recognise this by allowing them to fish more gear." [Individual response]
III. Reduce gear conflict
A number of respondents stated that with fewer creels on the seabed gear conflict should reduce.
"It will have a positive impact as there should be less gear on the ground which will mean there should be less gear conflict as it won't be so tight on space." [Individual response]
IV. Other positive impacts
Other positive comments received included: improved economic returns for vessels; improved health and safety; and reduced ghost fishing (where creels no longer used for fishing, but still in the sea, catch seafish which are subsequently unable to escape).
I. Favours larger vessels
A number of issues were highlighted regarding the allocation method, primarily that the proposal favoured larger vessels and could incentivise fishers to switch to larger vessels.
"It is our understanding that most vessels regardless of size are only fitted with one pot hauler and therefore can only haul creels one at a time. It is appreciated that larger vessels can often stay at sea longer and work worse weathers, however we find the disparity of creel allocations between the various sizes of vessels is in excess of what may be accounted for in this regard." [Scottish Creel Fishermen's Federation]
"It should be a blanket number per vessel, not size, to allow the fisheries to become better again, less creel caught species will be offset with a rise in prices for a superior product." [Individual response]
II. Limited impact on fishing effort
Some commented that the suggested limits should be set at a lower level, in order to reduce the overall level of fishing effort and the impact on fish stocks and the marine environment.
"The proposal states that the creel limits have been set in line with the number of creels usually hauled daily per vessel, therefore it can be assumed there will be no impacts either positive or negative on the current situation. WWF Scotland suggests that the creel limits should be reduced further to see positive impacts on both the benthic environment and Catch Per Unit Effort." [ WWF Scotland]
III. Does not take into consideration range of creel fisheries
From a technical standpoint, some highlighted that the allocation method did not take into account the differences between the different types of creel used to target seafish.
"The proposed numbers don't seem to differentiate between different types of creels or target species which makes the numbers being proposed arbitrary in nature. Prawn vessels generally work smaller creels and haul in more numerous amounts for any given days fishing and some crab and lobster pots are often worked in smaller amounts for any given days hauling" [Individual response]
IV. Other negative impacts
Other possible negatives raised by respondents included the economic impact the limits could have on any vessels that received an allocation less than the number of creels they currently deployed. There were concerns that this could lead to unemployment, or to vessels fishing harder to make up for any decrease.
Question 15: What is your view on the possible impact, both positive and negative, of requiring that all marker buoys set must clearly display the vessel's name and registration number?
I. Aid enforcement
Most respondents believed that this requirement would be effective at helping to enforce the scheme, making it easier to identify the owner of any deployed creels.
"Clear marking of gear allows vessels to work out where other operators gear is and which boats are operating in an area. The requirement to mark gear also means that untagged creels are not going to be shot on fleets which have ends marked with the vessels name as if that gear is checked there is no defence. Similarly any gear which is not marked will be more likely to be reported to Marine Scotland for investigation by operators who are abiding by the rules. I can see no negative impact of a requirement to clearly mark gear." [Individual response]
II. Other comments
Respondents also thought the requirement could be taken further, suggesting that each end of a fleet of creels should have an identifier, in order to aid navigation and possibly reduce conflict / entanglement.
"Adding individual fleet numbers to each fleet marked at both ends would also assist in mitigating gear conflict as such a practice would facilitate identifying both ends of a fleet and accordingly identify the approximate location of the fleet on the seabed." [Individual response]
I. Financial cost
Respondents' primary concern was the cost, in terms of both time and money, to update marker buoys to ensure they were compliant with this requirement.
"The only concern i would have is the cost that may be required to replace markers, having to either purchase new in order to remove existing or time involved in removing each fleet to shore to allow markers to painted." [Individual response]
II. Concerns over privacy
There was also a concern that being able to readily identify the owner of deployed creels could lead to instances of targeted gear vandalism.
"However, there have been occasions where creel fleets have been deliberately targeted by trawlers when made highly visible and there is currently absolutely no practical method of establishing which vessel either cut the ends or towed the thousands of pounds worth of gear away to be dumped in the shallows. This has happened locally where I am aware of local fishermen using dhan buoys to mark ends." [Individual response]
Question 16: What is your view on the possible impact, both positive and negative, of requiring that no vessel may haul another vessel's creels without first obtaining clearance from Marine Scotland?
Respondents believed that this requirement would also help to enforce the creel limit scheme by preventing a vessel from using another's tags to deploy more creels than it was permitted to do so.
"The positive impact of not being allowed to haul another vessels gear is that owners cannot use donor vessels to obtain additional tags. I own two vessels one which we use for prawn the other for lobster and velvet crab. In theory without this requirement I could tag prawn gear with tags from the small boat and lift it along with the big boats gear even though the small boat is incapable of fishing prawn in deep water. I could also take tags issued to my father's boat and do the same thing giving me over 2500 creels to lift. I cannot see a significant negative effect of requiring Marine Scotland compliance to approve the lifting of another boats gear." [Individual response]
Respondents also tended to agree with the requirement that from a point of principle – a vessel shouldn't haul another's creels.
"I agree with this. Also no one should haul another`s gear without permission of the owner, I cannot see under what circumstances a skipper would need to haul someone else`s gear." [Individual response]
The main negative suggested by respondents was whether the requirement took into account exceptions that could require a vessel to move another's creels without first seeking formal approval. Respondents outlined a number of scenarios, including gear being towed accidentally, adverse weather conditions, and mechanical issues.
"If this is simply for the purpose of preventing vessels from sharing gear? Then it would need to be considered in some depth as vessels may require assistance from others at times where gear is at risk from weather, time exposure due to vessel mechanical issues, relocation to protect from trawl and any other reasons, where the gear owner is unable to attend to it or is uncontactable." [Individual response]
There were also concerns regarding the capability of Marine Scotland to adequately administer this requirement, in terms of the ease of submitting a request and the turnaround time to receive clearance.
"There are the occasions where a mobile vessel genuinely does not see a static fleet of creels and inadvertently tows an end and needs to disentangle them instead of cutting them off and dumping them which they may do if Marine Scotland contact is 'too much hassle'. Or what happens if Marine Scotland is not contactable for clearance?" [Individual response]
Marine Scotland Response
Following consideration, Marine Scotland will pilot creel limits in the Outer Hebrides RIFG area.
To summarise, the key strengths of the proposal is that it:
- Has a defined objective (to limit the number of creels individual vessels are permitted to use in the relevant area).
- Demonstrates why creel limits are felt necessary.
- Is led by the local RIFG and demonstrates a good understanding of the fisheries in the area.
- Has been considered and refined following consideration with local stakeholders and visit to an area with creel limits in operation.
However, there are some weaknesses in the proposal:
- The rationale and possible positive and negative consequences of individual management measures are not explored in any real detail in the appropriate section of the proposal form.
- The practicalities and cost of putting in place creel limits in mixed fisheries are touched upon but not explored in any depth.
- Little consideration is given to monitoring the impact of the measures.
Marine Scotland believes that the Outer Hebrides proposal aligns well with the aims of the Inshore Fisheries Pilots initiative and offers the opportunity for exploring the potential for creel limits to control effort in Scotland's key creel fisheries.
This pilot, with a strong group behind it, gives a good opportunity to establish the practical benefits, or otherwise, of creel limits. Marine Scotland will work with the Outer Hebrides RIFG to put a creel limitation scheme in place.
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