Creel fishing: effort study

Report to assess the environmental sustainability of fish stocks and the socioeconomic efficiency of fishing activity.

Executive Summary

Measuring fishing effort is important for assessing the environmental sustainability of fish stocks and the socioeconomic efficiency of fishing activity. This report presents results from interviews carried out in four regions in Scotland with fishers on their current creel fishing activity targeting shellfish, their views on management and two stakeholder workshops on future fisheries management. Fishing effort describes the amount of fishing gear used on a fishing ground over a given unit of time. In this report effort is defined as number of creels hauled per day per 4 km 2.

The aim of this work is to define the type and volume of effort being deployed to help inform future management proposals. The survey interviewed 198 creel vessel skippers from four regions, two on the west and two on the east coast of Scotland. The regions on the west coast were selected based on the presents of multiple marine users and those on the east coast due to user conflicts within and between fishing sectors.

Nephrops Fishery: West Coast of Scotland - The number of Nephrops creels that vessels deployed (in water capacity) at any one time to target Nephrops ranged from 50 to 2,500 creels per vessel and average number of deployed creels across all surveyed vessels was 925. All of these vessels used the industry standard D-shaped prawn creel to target Nephrops. When broken down, vessels operated by 2 crews, deployed an average of 1,167 creels and those operated by 3+ crews deploying an average of 1,693 creels per vessel. Around 10% of surveyed vessels deployed over 2,000 creels, 25% deployed between 1,000 to 1,999 creels and the remaining 65% deployed under 1,000 creels. Gear haul rates per 4 km 2 ranged from 0.1 hauls per day in very lightly fished areas to 640 creels hauled per day per 4 km 2 in highly fished areas.

Crab and Lobster Fishery: West Coast of Scotland - The total number of creels deployed at any one time ranged from 40 to 900 creels per vessel and the average number of creels deployed across all surveyed vessels was 294. Vessels used the industry standard D-shaped lobster creels (54%), a mixture of D-shaped lobster creels with parlour creels (28%) or parlour creels exclusively (18%). When broken down, vessels operated by 1 crew member deployed an average of 476 creels, and vessels operated by 2+ crews, deployed a much lower average at 219 creels, due to these bigger vessels working in the Nephrops fishery in addition to the crab and lobster fishery. Gear haul rates per 4 km 2 ranged from 0.1 to 3 hauls per day in lightly fished areas, up to 47.6 hauls per day in highly fished areas.

Crab and Lobster Fishery: East Coast of Scotland - The number of creels deployed in this fishery ranged from 10 to 2,300, with an average across all surveyed vessels of 455. The majority of vessels fished exclusively with parlour creels (67%), followed by those who used lobster creels (19%). Only 8.4% of surveyed vessels deployed more than 1,000 creels, 31.6% deployed between 500 and 999 creels and the remaining 60% deployed under 500 creels. When broken down, vessels operated by 1 crew member deployed on average 437 creels, vessels operated by 2 crew members deployed 609 and for 3+ crews the average was 1,088 deployed. Gear haul rates ranged from 1 to 234 hauls per day per 4 km 2.

Business Confidence and Management Concerns in the Creel Sector - The primary concern from interviewed fishers was the number of creels being deployed in all three shellfish fisheries. Gear saturation in available grounds was reported as high with fishers no longer able to move gear to rest fishing grounds as in the past. Conflict between the creel and mobile fishing sectors was the second most cited concern and the third was the number of part-time and hobby fishers, which in the case of the former, compete with full-time fishers for markets during the summer months and for the latter a lack of understanding of fishing regulations and reports of the illegal selling of catches.

Around 40% of fishers interviewed had confidence in their businesses and business development. Between 26-30% were not confident in their businesses and they attributed this to gear saturation, conflict between fishing sectors and finding reliable crew as some of the reasons. The remaining 30% were content to maintain their business, but did not want to develop further.

The majority of interviewees supported the use of effort management mainly in the form of creel limits whilst some citing a mixture of spatial and effort management. Many whom supported creel limits also felt that without permit limitations (limits on the number of new boats) in tandem, creel limitation will fail due to people obtaining additional licences to access a higher number of creels. Interviewees gave their views on how creel limits could be implemented and were divided in views between allocating creel numbers by crew members, the most favoured, or by size of vessel. The high proportion of interviewees were against spatial management aimed at static gear, mainly because of displacement, non-compliance and poor enforcement. This opinion was most expressed on the west coast, potentially because of the presents of more types of spatial management e.g. marine protected areas, compared with the east coast, where more interviewees were willing to consider different types of spatial management in line with other controls on effort.

Stakeholder Workshops - Key issues discussed in the workshop were:

  • current legislation not being responsive to the needs of fishers
  • new management measures taking too long to introduce
  • insufficient punishments for wrong doers.
  • the need to balancing livelihood, e.g. how to balance creel limits with full-time, part-time and unlicensed fishers.
  • challenges in accessing new markets
  • dependency of overseas markets with little opportunity to sell products locally.

Future Management - There was a clear view that current management needs to be reviewed, if not a direct request for management intervention. Most fishers highlighted the need for a flexible system that reflects the hazards and natural complexity of the marine environment, but also regulations tough enough to deal with rule breaking. This report makes two key conclusions: 1) creel fishing is, predominantly, a local issues and any future management should be tackled at the local level. A management trial should be prioritised in a region where fishers support is high and voluntary agreements would be supported and respected. Support would be required by both Marine Scotland and the Inshore Fisheries Group ( IFGs) and suitable sites identified; 2) Effort monitoring should continue and total effort deployed in Scottish inshore waters quantified. This will allow meaningful integration of inshore fishing activity with wider marine spatial planning and provide more evidence of the value of creel fishing in these waters.


Email: Estelle Jones,

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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