Outer Hebrides Inshore Fisheries Pilot: year one report

The OHIFP is a stakeholder-led project developed collaboratively by the fishing industry, the scientific community and Scottish Government to test approaches to fisheries management within a significant area of sea to the east of the Outer Hebrides. This report summaries the first years findings.

3. Outer Hebrides Regional Inshore Fisheries Group

On 5th November 2021, as the Pilot entered its second year, the majority of fishers reported that the positive aspects outweighed the negative. These have included perceptions of improved fishing performance for less time spent at sea, reduced gear conflict and improved accessibility of seabed space. A negative aspect has been stakeholder concerns over breaches of soak time regulation, with fishers still using gear in order to ring fence fishing ground. However, no such activity has yet been reported to Marine Scotland.

In terms of general feedback, it has also been observed that the scale of the area may be causing fleet displacement both within and outside of the Pilot area. It is possible that this situation is being exacerbated because smaller vessels may not have sufficient range to access key grounds further from their home port in a single voyage. Introducing separate derogations for smaller, distinct areas is regarded as being a potential way of addressing this in the future.

The initial proposal for the Pilot included regulations on marking of gear and stakeholders continue to regard compliance with the subsequent 2020 Marking of Gear (Scotland) Order as being intrinsically linked to the Pilot and an important indicator of compliance with its rules.

Testing of the Tracking Solution on a significant portion of the fishing fleet has generated a positive response among stakeholders and the OHRIFG feel that valuable lessons have already been learned regarding the logistics of planning and implementing such devices. Unpredictability of fishing patterns as well as retaining a suitable marine engineer were the two main problems encountered.

3.1 Stakeholder Views

Duncan MacInnes, Secretary, Western Isles Fisherman's Association (WIFA)

Duncan MacInnes reports that, following many years of uncontrolled creel fishing, the Pilot has brought a sense of stability to the fleet.

In the future, he is keen to see the extension of the requirement for local vessels to carry some form of vessel tracking solution. He says that this will not only provide a wealth of information on stock health and where the most productive grounds are located, but will also enable fishers to evidence their activity when decisions are being made about other commercial marine uses.

Encouraged by the initial success of the Pilot, Duncan reports that WIFA members would like to see its extension to cover a much larger swathe of the Western Isles. This would enable greater control to be exerted over the practice of leaving large amounts of gear unattended on key fishing grounds.

Donald MacLennan, Skipper, Valhalla, Harris

Donald MacLennan's business has seen huge challenges as a result of dramatically increasing operating costs triggered by the pandemic, Brexit and now a dawning international energy crisis.

A fishing business like his might expect to replace 100 Nephrops creels and 50 crab creels each year. With the price of a 26 inch crab creel rising from approximately £65 in 2019 to approximately £85[1] at the time of writing, he expects to incur an additional £5,000 annual cost between creels and rope.

In the case of fuel, Donald fears that recent price increases may equate to as much as an additional £7,000 this year and there are other expenses too. Operations central to his business model require frozen bait to be stored onshore and with his freezer in use constantly between May and December, will cost an additional £960.

In spite of these challenges, 2021 saw some of the best ever market prices for shellfish landed into Scotland and this gives Donald hope for the future of a business that sees him provide stable employment for four people, besides himself.

Donald supports the Outer Hebrides Pilot but would also be keen to see it rolled out throughout the Western Isles. He believes that the example it sets proves that with creel fishing, less can be more. Indeed, during the first year of the Pilot he has worked fewer creels and spent less time at sea for a significant improvement in his gross income.

Looking at the bigger picture, he believes that the answer for the Scottish fishing industry is more complex than the public perception that everyone should simply switch to static gear. The way he sees it, in order survive and thrive, the industry must seek ways to be efficient, while seeking opportunities for fisheries diversification.

Iain MacKenzie, Skipper, Restless Wave, South Uist

Iain MacKenzie has seen a marked improvement in the quality of his catch since the Pilot began. The Restless Wave works in one of the most intensely fished areas around the Western Isles, which tends to be characterised by larger vessels who fish round the clock. This kind of approach to fishing makes competition for seabed space intense and gear conflict can quickly become a serious issue.

In the last 18 months, since the pressure has come off the grounds, it has been possible to adopt better fishing patterns that give the hardest fished areas a chance to rest. In short order, this has translated to more medium and large Nephrops being retained and, overall, some of the best returns Iain has seen since 2003. He typically experiences a spell of good fishing in the spring, but during 2021, that spell stretched out right through the summer.

Mutual agreement by the fleet to use less gear has had other positive effects too with the Restless Wave now fishing 600 creels a day, down from 1,080 in 2016 and 2017. Iain isn't sure whether the downturn in fishing has been due to the ground needing to be rested or to natural cycles but is encouraged that he now finds his business doing less work for a better income.

Angus Campbell, Manager, Kilbride Shellfish, South Uist

Kilbride Shellfish Ltd was set up in 1985 to provide static gear vessels an improved marketing service where their catch was graded and weighed at a single despatch centre. This enables vivier lorries to be loaded quickly and efficiently, prior to departure for European markets. Kilbride Shellfish are heavily involved in stock enhancement measures, including lobster v-notching, supporting the increase in shellfish minimum landing sizes and seasonal creel prohibition zones. Their overarching aim is to create a more flexible, diverse inshore fishing industry.

Kilbride Shellfish Manager, Angus Campbell reports seeing significant improvements since the start of the Pilot, with the fishing businesses with whom he deals hauling fewer creels and maintaining good catch rates. This has had a knock-on effect for his business, as shorter fishing trips means the catch is landed in better condition, leading to fewer mortalities during transportation.



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