Outer Hebrides creel limitation pilot: research and evaluation

Presents the findings of the survey made into the operational implications and socio-economic impacts of the Outer Hebrides Creel Limitation Pilot on fishers.

Executive Summary

Key Findings

Fishers were interested in the Outer Hebrides Creel Limitation Pilot (CLP) because they want to improve their catch-per-unit-effort, encourage responsible management of the fishery and prevent fishers from holding valuable patches of the seabed with creels that are not fishing.

23% of fishers made changes to their fishing operations because of the CLP, most of whom had reduced their creel numbers.

Though the social impacts are unquantifiable, evidence from fishers in this project suggests that the CLP may have already brought some benefits with nearly a third of fishers reporting less ground holding in the pilot area, a fifth noticing positive changes to their well-being and almost half saying that reduced creel limits would benefit their health and safety.

It is generally believed that in implementing the pilot area to the east, some large vivier crabbing vessels that work thousands of creels, have been displaced to the west and are competing for crab stocks. According to the fishers, vivier crabbing vessels are not Scottish registered and may represent an issue beyond the localised jurisdiction of the co-management strategy.

For most, income and expenditure remain unchanged, however, there were just under a quarter of respondents reported an increased income as a result of the CLP.

Anecdotal evidence also suggests that lobster and crab stocks may be declining but Nephrops stocks seem healthy. This cannot be attributed to the CLP with any certainty, though the pilot area covers largely Nephrops grounds and leaves the crab and lobster grounds to the west unprotected from creel saturation.

The most frequently given suggestions for management were to reduce the creel limits further and to see the pilot area extended to the west of the Outer Hebrides.

Creel saturation in the Scottish Inshore Fishery is becoming a problem of increasing concern amongst fishers, creating conflict over marine space and resources. The consequences include decreasing shellfish stocks and falling catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE), where fishers must increase their fishing effort for the same or decreased returns. Creel limits were heralded as a more popular alternative to spatial management amongst Scottish creel fishers, leading to the trial of a creel limitation project by vessel size for a specified area off the east coast of the Outer Hebrides.

Using co-management as a model for the pilot trial, a collaboration between the Regional Inshore Fisheries Group (RIFG) and Marine Scotland was created and a creel limit was implemented across a specified area between the 5th of November 2020 and the 31st of October 2022. To fish within the pilot area, fishers had to apply for a derogation, agreeing to fish on or below the creel limit assigned to their vessel and for no longer than the agreed soak time.

The Outer Hebrides Creel Limitation Pilot (CLP), aimed to limit the increase in creel numbers, reverse the decline in local shellfish stocks, increase CPUE, examine a local-scale fisheries management approach and investigate vessel tracking in the inshore fleet. In addition, it was hoped that the pilot would reduce conflict amongst fishers and improve health and safety, well-being, the efficiency of fishing operations and the economic situation of fishers.

Within the final months of the pilot, a research and evaluation project was undertaken to identify whether the aims of the pilot had been successfully met and to understand the social and economic impacts that the pilot may have had on fishers and processors. An online survey was conducted between the 16th of July and the 17th of September 2022 and distributed via email by the Western Isles Fishermen's Association (WIFA). Alongside the online survey, a series of semi-structured face-to-face interviews with fishers and processors were undertaken on a visit to the Outer Hebrides between the 17th and 22nd of July 2022.

The online survey attracted thirty-nine usable responses with twenty-six interviews from fishers and two interviews with shellfish processors. There were a minimum of fifty-four unique responses, representing at least forty-nine different fishing vessels from across the Outer Hebrides, giving a total response rate of approximately 22%. Of the one-hundred-and-forty-three CLP derogations issued, forty-three were represented by respondents giving a response rate of 30% of possible participating vessels. Respondents ranged from the Isle of Vatersay in the south to Stornoway in the north of the Isle of Lewis, with over 80% of survey and interview respondents having derogations to fish within the pilot area.

Key Recommendations

From the feedback given by the many respondents, the following recommendations should be considered:

  • Reassess and potentially further reduce the creel limits taking into account differences between Nephrops and crab/lobster creeling.
  • Explore the potential to expand the pilot area to incorporate fishing grounds on the west coast of the Outer Hebrides.
  • Up-to-date stock assessments are required for brown crab (Cancer pagurus) but also would be beneficial for velvet swimming crab (Necora puber) and European lobster (Homarus gammarus).
  • Track all vessels operating within the CLP area.
  • A more responsive approach to the policing of the creel limits by Marine Scotland to ensure fishing effort is reduced and conflict is mitigated.
  • An overall cap on fishing effort within the pilot area should be considered to ensure that stocks are not over-exploited.
  • Continued co-management of the fishery between the RIFG and Marine Scotland, with additional intervention drafted in for matters beyond the local jurisdiction.
  • Long-term monitoring of creel limitation through vessel tracking and catch and landings data to develop more dynamic management measures and provide an evidence base for fishers.


Email: inshore@gov.scot

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