Creel fishing: effort study

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

5. Business Confidence and Management Concerns in the Creel Sector

All surveyed fishers were asked for their views on the status of the fisheries that they operate in, how confident they were in their business and their views on management of the fisheries either spatially i.e. regulations in specific areas, or by controlling effort i.e. creel limits, limits on licences, amount of time allowed to fish etc. Below is a summary of the findings.

5.1 Key Concerns for Static Fishing

West Coast - 40% reported the number of creels to be a key concern with no creel limits causing people to overfish and hold fishing ground. In the south west region, this was a concern for prawn creelers and seasonal fishers. About 7% of those stated that the prospect of regulations in the form of creel limits was their key concern. In the north west region a number of interviewees said the high number of deployed creels has resulted in fishers not being able to move gear as in the past or rest grounds. 26% identified gear conflict (between static and mobile vessels) as their main concern with both scallop dredgers and trawlers blamed for the loss of creels, although a number of interviewees did state that this was less of an issue than in the past because of better communication between mobile vessel skippers and creel fishers. 15% stated that there were no key concerns in the area, although some interviewees mentioned gear saturation, habitat destruction from mobile vessels, and overfishing as potential concerns. Of the remaining 12%: 6% mentioned unlicensed fishers or unlicensed boats which was associated with hobby fishers targeting both scallops and lobster; and 6% stated that MPAs and weather as their key concerns, the former as an effort control issue and the latter through damage to fishing gear.

East Coast - 58% of those surveyed raised creel numbers as the key concern. Deployment of more creels, along with more vessels entering the fishery, was thought to be leading to overfishing. This was stated as resulting with in-sector competition with reports of some fisher deploying creels to hold ground rather than to fish on a regular basis. 35% of fishers, mainly in the north east, reported conflicts between static and mobile gears. Many complained that visiting mobile vessels currently fished too close to the shore and towed creels which is forcing creel fishers to overcrowd smaller inshore areas to avoid losing gear. Concern was also voiced on habitat damage to crab and lobster grounds from mobile gears. Three other concerns raised were: part-time fishers (16%) which have increased and deploy large amounts of gear, putting them in direct competition with full-time fishers during summer months; Unlicensed fishers (14%) who are reported as catching undersized shellfish, illegally selling their catch, and not properly marking gear; and fishers landing berried (egg-bearing) lobster (9%) which some felt should be prohibited in order to protect breeding stock. 3% of interviewees did not raise any concerns or did not answer the question.

5.2 Confident and Business Development

West Coast - Over 37% felt confident and were able to develop their business with a number keen to: 1) buy another boat; 2) increase the number of creels they worked and; 3) adding value to catches through processing. Some of these fishers described the level of work required to develop their business as challenging and 4% cited age as a barrier due to the physical demands of the job. 30% did not feel confident in their businesses citing: creel saturation and competition for marine space; marine protected areas; gear conflict and rising costs; low prawn prices; finding reliable crew; and health and safety restrictions as reasons for low confidence. Of those who said they were not confident a small proportion (10%) stated that they would be keen to leave the industry. 23% felt their business could be maintained at the current rate stating that they were still making a suitable living and the current business commitment gave a good work-life balance. A further 6% were unsure if their businesses were sustainable due to uncertainly around changes in management and finding reliable crew.

East Coast - 40% of those interviewed felt confident to develop their business because stocks were healthy and market prices good. Several reported that they had recently purchased a new vessel but caveated that their confidence was contingent on maintaining current fishing effort and market prices remaining stable at the current level. 26% did not feel confident about their business. Reasons given were increased creel effort on the grounds; continuing conflict with mobile vessels which impacts on their ability to fish in deeper water and the expense of replacing lost gear; and inability to diversify into other fishing opportunities (e.g. mackerel, herring). 16% were content to maintain their business with no intention to develop further. For some this was because they were nearing retirement, while others simply had no desire or interest to expand. 14% were uncertain about developing their business because of the concerns in the east coast voiced in the previous question. 4% of interviewees did not respond to the question.

5.3 Opinions on Spatial Management of Static Gear

West Coast - 63% of interviewees were against spatial management aimed at vessels fishing with creels, with issues around displacement, compliance and 'not necessary' due to the natural cycle of fishing most commonly cited reasons. Those who felt spatial management was not necessary discussed the 'cycle of fishing' which meant fishers moved off grounds when quality dropped therefore areas are naturally rested and recovered. The next most cited reason for concern around spatial management, and linked to displacement was creel saturation, as vessels would need to move creels into already fished grounds causing conflict with fishers currently creeling in those areas and potentially overfishing areas not spatially managed. Some fishers also cited business viability as the key concern with spatial management of creel in grounds already saturated and displacement would fuel conflict or drive some creel vessels out of business. The remaining 37% were in favour of some form of spatial management, mostly seasonal closures to support: 1) the moulting cycle of velvet crabs; 2) to rest ground during the summer months, and; 3) protect the market from low quality prawns and therefore protect prices. It was felt that this type of spatial management would need to be a collaboration between fishers and managing authorities to be effective. Some interviewees cited enforcement as the major weakness in any form of management and whilst in favour of spatial management did not feel confident in its implementation or/and enforcement.

East Coast - 45% of those interviewed were against spatial management of creels, because of potential displacement of fishing effort putting pressure on other areas and increasing conflict between creel fishers. Several interviewees did not think it was required because of the seasonal nature of their fishery, and the natural restrictions of weather during winter months. Regarding conflicts between static and mobile sectors, some felt these should be resolved voluntarily through improved communications, rather than formally through management. 22% supported spatial management in the form of static-only areas, to reduce interactions with mobile vessels and loss of gear. They also felt it would help reduce crowding by creel vessels. However, there was no consensus on how a creel gear-only area could be implemented, with 2, 3, 4, 6 and 12-mile limits all proposed by interviewees. 18% supported spatial management in the form of seasonal closures and felt they would be effective for 1 to 2 months during mid-summer to protect shellfish when berried and/or soft-shelled. However, effort displacement during this time was a concern. The remaining 15% of interviewees were uncertain about the role of spatial management or did not answer the question.

5.4 Opinions on Effort Management of Static Gear

West Coast - 81% of interviewees supported the use of effort management with the majority (77%) favouring creel limits and the remaining (33%) citing a mixture of spatial and effort management. 7% were against effort restrictions either because they did not feel it was needed, as the weather balanced out effort naturally, or because enforcement would be too difficult. The remaining 12% had no views or were indifferent to any forms of effort management.

Of those in favour, the bulk supported creel limits, but were concerned about unused grounds being taken by trawlers. Other felt this would enable trawlers to also utilise shared grounds that they felt everyone should be able to access in order to make a living. Many felt that without permit limitations (limits on the number of new boats) in tandem, creel limitation will fail as people will buy additional licences to access a higher number of creels. Some also voiced concern on how limits would be applied and how a fair system could be put in place. Four issues were identified: 1) creels not regularly fished and being used to hold ground - this would need to be tackled; 2) allocation of creels could be based on vessel or number of crew - the second was the more favoured approach; 3) permits to fish in particular areas could not be traded and returned to the pool if fishers retired to allow new entrants, and; 4) market demand would need to be considered when allocating limits - one interviewee suggested Monday-Friday fishing only, so weekend catches do not flood the market and drive down prices.

When allocating limits, some fishers stated what they felt would be a fair allocation. Allocation by number of crew was most favoured over length of vessel, with 300 to 500 creels most commonly cited as a fair allocation in the Nephrops fishery for a 1 person vessels. It was stated that a 1 person vessel can haul up to 500 creels a day and 1500 to 1,600 creels for 2+ crews. Most felt a cap as around 1,500 was sufficient for most Nephrops boats and that no vessel should be allowed to work over 2,000 creels as anything over this volume is used to hold ground. Others stated that for each crew member an additional 400 creels should be licenced on top of a base limitation of 800 for a single man vessel.

East Coast - 76% of interviewees supported some kind of effort management with the higher proportion (64%) in favour of creel limitations, some (12%) of whom also thought this should be accompanied by a permit scheme. Views on how creel limits could be implemented were split between allocating per crew member, or per vessel. Other methods included allocation by length of vessel, or distance a vessel fished from the shore. The numbers suggested for a limit were varied, however, they tended to average as : 300 to 400 creels per crew (up to a max. of 1,000) or 400 to 800 per boat by north east fishers in the crab and lobster fishery; and 200 to 300 creels per crew or 400 to 800 per boat by south east fishers in the crab and lobster fishery. The key issues that interviewees foresaw for successful implementation of creel limits was enforcement and loopholes that allowed the acquisition of larger allocation of creels (e.g. by buying another boat, or from being able to trade allocations). A small portion of these in favour of effort management (12%) wanted measures that would specifically restrict the effort of part-time [5] and unlicensed fishers. Suggestions included introducing creel limits only for part-time fishermen, and a permit scheme for unlicensed/hobby fishers. The remaining interviewees who were supportive (12%) suggested a number of other effort measures including banning the landing of berried lobster, setting 'introductory' creel limits for new entrants and some technical measures such as increasing the mesh sizes on creels and making escape panels mandatory.

14% of interviewees were opposed to effort management. They felt that it wasn't required as their local stocks were healthy and being fished sustainably, and questioned how any measures would be enforced. They also raised specific concerns that limiting creel numbers could have an impact on their business, and that permits to fish in their area could lead to effort being displaced. The remaining 10% of interviewees were uncertain about effort management or did not answer the question.


Email: Estelle Jones,

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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