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.


About the respondents

A total of thirty-nine usable survey responses were gathered, along with twenty-six interviews with fishers and two interviews with seafood processors. A total of eight fishers completed both an online survey and an interview so the total number of unique responses was at least fifty-four and represented at least forty-nine different vessels (though the actual numbers are uncertain due to a few unspecified plate numbers). There are two-hundred-and-twenty registered and licensed vessels in the Outer Hebrides giving an overall response rate of approximately 22%. A number of static gear vessels are likely to have been inactive during the survey period for a variety of reasons including elderly ownership and skippers working offshore etc., therefore the actual response rate for active vessels would likely be higher. A total of forty-three CLP derogations were represented by survey and interview respondents, giving a response rate of 30% of possible vessels participating in the CLP. Survey and interview respondents came from across the Outer Hebridean islands, ranging from the Isle of Vatersay in the south to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis in the north.

Of the survey respondents, 87% were participating in the CLP and had derogations to fish within the pilot area. The majority of survey respondents were from the central islands of Uists, Benbecula or Eriskay (Table 2). Most had been fishing for 10 to 30 years and had vessels under 8m in length. A third of survey respondents target crab and/ or lobster and over a third of respondents target something additional to crab and/or lobster and Nephrops. The majority of the other species fished for were crayfish (Palinurus elephas) and wrasse (family Labridae), though one survey respondent targets dogfish (family Squalidae), turbot (Scophthalmus maximus), skate (family Rajidae) and tope (Galeorhinus galeus) and another targets king scallops (Pecten maximus). Similarly, 82% of the interview respondents were participating in the CLP. The majority are from Harris, Lewis and Scalpay. Most had been fishing for between 10 and 30 years, targeting crab and/ or lobster with Nephrops and owned vessels between 8m and 10m in length (Table 2). Less than a third fished for other species, including crayfish, wrasse, and scallops. There is no relationship between the island grouping and the fisheries that reside on those islands (Fisher's Exact Test: p=0.25| n=55).

Table 2) Features of the survey respondents (n=39) and interview respondents (n=28).
Response Features Feature groupings Survey Response count Survey Percentages (%) Interview Response count Interview Percentages (%)
Location Lewis, Harris & Scalpay 15 38.46 13 46.43
Uists, Benbecula & Eriskay 16 41.03 9 32.14
Barra & Vatersay 7 17.95 6 21.43
Unknown 1 2.56 0 0.00
Years fishing <10 8 20.51 7 25.00
10 to 30 17 43.59 11 39.29
>30 14 35.90 8 28.57
NA 0 0.00 2 7.14
Target Species Nephrops 3 7.69 5 17.86
Crab &/ or lobster 13 33.33 6 21.43
Crab &/or lobster & Nephrops 9 23.08 9 32.14
Nephrops & other 0 0.00 1 3.57
Crab &/ or lobster & other 7 17.95 3 10.71
Crab &/or lobster, Nephrops & other 7 17.95 4 14.29
NA 0 0.00 0 0.00
Participation CLP Participant 34 87.18 23 82.14
Non-participant 5 12.82 3 10.71
NA 0 0.00 2 7.14
Vessel Length <8m 17 43.59 8 28.57
8-10m 13 33.33 9 32.14
10-12m 2 5.13 6 21.43
>12m 2 5.13 2 7.14
NA 5 12.82 3 10.71

In interviews, some respondents shared more about the characteristics of the fishing grounds around the Outer Hebrides. They reported that on the east coast and within the pilot area, the predominant creel fishery is for Nephrops with some areas of good crab ground. On the west coast, the predominant fishery is for crab and lobster though creeling is prohibited on the west from Barra head to the Harris Protected Area during the winter to allow the grounds to rest[1].

Key findings from the study

The first section below covers the key findings related to the consultation and implementation process. This includes why participants and non-participants showed interest in the CLP as a project co-managed by the OHRIFG and Marine Scotland, and also their suggestions for improved management. The second section presents feedback on the operational implications of the CLP and details how some fishers altered their practices as a response to the CLP derogation rules. The findings of the social impacts are then presented, including details of gear conflict, well-being and health and safety, followed by the economic implications, including income and expenditure, market prices, operational costs and shellfish stocks. The following section documents the opinions of two seafood processors located in the Outer Hebrides and whether they noticed the effects of the CLP on their business, and the final section documents other concerns listed by the interview respondents. For a discussion of the significance of the results, please see the section titled: 'Discussion'.

Feedback on the consultation, preparation and implementation process

Key findings

  • 66% of survey respondents and 73% of interview respondents attended a consultation event.
  • The main reasons for survey respondents showing interest in the CLP were to improve CPUE, to encourage responsible management of the fishery and to prevent a holding of the grounds. Interviewees were interested in lowering fishing effort and promoting sustainability of the fishery.
  • The most cited suggestion for management from both interviewees and survey respondents were to further reduce the creel limits and expand the pilot area to include the west coast, encompassing crab and lobster grounds.

Survey and interview respondents were asked a variety of questions regarding the implementation process of the CLP. These questions were focussed around the attendance of consultation events, whether the pilot was something that they were interested in and why. This helped the researchers to gauge what are the priorities for fishers in the Outer Hebrides. Respondents were also asked to provide feedback on the CLP and offer suggestions for its improvement. Suggestions for management ought to be reviewed in detail by the co-management partnership.


Of the survey respondents (n=39), 44% had completed a Marine Scotland consultation response for the CLP and 66% had attended a consultation event before the CLP began. Of the interviewees, nineteen of the twenty-six fishers (73%) had attended a consultation event. Processors had not been invited to the consultations. The survey respondents that did attend a consultation event were asked if they felt that their views and opinions had been heard or acted upon. Of that cohort, 75% said that they felt their views and opinions were heard and acted upon (n=24). The remaining 25% disagreed. Of the six participants that disagreed, three gave suggestions of what they would like to have seen, including a tag system akin to the creel limitation in Northumberland, more severe restrictions for hobby fishers and a uniform limit of one-thousand creels per vessel.


Whilst interest in a creel limitation scheme was assumed for those who participated, of those survey participants that were not taking part in the CLP (n=5), 100% said that they supported the pilot and its aims.

In the survey, both CLP participants and non-participants were separately asked to rank the aims of the survey to show their primary reasons for showing support for the CLP. The overall ranks were calculated by averaging the responses to get an average rank for each reason. Of the pilot participants in the survey, the most frequently picked reason for supporting the pilot was to 'increase catch-per-unit-effort' (CPUE), followed in second place by the 'encouragement of responsible management for the fishery'. 'To prevent gear being placed on the grounds to prevent others from fishing' was ranked third overall (Figure 2). For those that listed 'other reasons' (n=6), the most frequently listed reason was to keep large or nomadic vivier vessels (often working thousands of creels) out of the fishery. The issues surrounding vivier vessels will be discussed in more depth in 'Social Implications: Gear Conflict'.

Figure 2) The frequency at which each reason was ranked in terms of why the CLP was supported by CLP participants. Items were ranked from 1-6 with a rank of 1 being the most important reason for supporting the CLP and 6 being the least important, with rank along the X axis and response count along the y axis. (n=32). The ranks were averaged to give a definitive overall ranking.
A series of 6 bar graphs showing the importance attributed by respondents to different aims of the pilot. These are ranked 1-6 from the most important to the least and averaged .
Graph A describes catch per unit effort with the majority of respondents placing a high degree of importance on this aim. Graph B describes reduction of static and mobile gear conflict with most respondents ranking this aim as between 3 and 5. Graph C describes the prevention of excess gear on the ground and shows that most respondents ranked this aim between 1 and 4. Only 4 respondents ranked this aim between 5 and 6. Graph D describes health and safety with respondents, in general attributing lower importance to this aim. Graph E describes encouragement of responsible management with the majority of respondents placing high or very high importance on this aim. Graph F describes other (non specified) aims of the pilot and the vast majority of respondents regarded this as being of the lowest importance.

Of the five fishers that were not participating in the CLP, four ranked their primary reasons for their support. Non-participants ranked 'encouragement of the sustainable management of the fishery' as their primary reason for support. 'To prevent gear being placed on the grounds to prevent others from fishing' and to 'increase catch-per-unit-effort' had the same average ranked score, making them joint second in terms of priorities. Of the interview respondents, 88% of fishers (n=26) said that they were interested in a creel limitation scheme. The reasons given by interviewees are presented in Table 3. The majority of interviewees were interested in the CLP because they wanted to see reduced fishing effort and sustainability in their fishery.

Table 3) Those interviewees that were interested in the CLP were asked an open-ended question about why they were interested. The coded reasons are below. (n=23).
Code Code Description Number of Interviewees
Less Creels Interviewees were interested because they wanted to see less gear being used and fishing effort reduced. 7
Future Sustainability Interviewees were interested in a creel limitation scheme because they want to ensure that the fishery will be sustainable in the future. 6
Taken a long time Interviewees expressed an interest when the proposals were drawn as they had been hoping for a creel limitation scheme for approximately 20 years. 3
Next Generation Interviewees were keen to ensure that the fishery was viable for the next generation, sometimes expressing a desire for their children to also become fishers. 3
Larger vessels Interviewees specifically desired to see fewer creels allowed for larger vessels. 3
Gear Saturation Interviewees were interested in tackling the issue of gear saturation. 3
Necessity Interviewees were interested because they felt 'something had to be done'. 2
Improve stocks Interviewees were interested in a creel limitation scheme to improve stocks. 1
Community Interviewees acknowledged that fishing is an important part of the small self-sufficient community in the Outer Hebrides and wanted to utilise the fishery to preserve the community. 1
Control Interviewees were interested in a creel limitation because they desired to see stricter controls on the industry. 1
Security Interviewees were interested in the creel limitation because they think it might help with job security and business viability. 1

Management suggestions

When asked to provide suggestions on anything that could have been done differently at the consultation, preparation or implementation, the two main recommendations by fishers were to further reduce the creel limits and to extend the pilot area around the west coast (Table 4). It should also be noted that amongst the suggestions, positive feedback was also recorded. Of the survey respondents, 87% said they would be willing to accept a lower creel limit (n=39). Of the interviewees, 73% said that they would be willing to accept a lower creel limit if scientific evidence could prove that it makes fishing more sustainable (n=26).

Table 4) Coded suggestions given for improvements to the consultation, preparation and implementation processes for the CLP. Survey and interview responses have been combined. (n=30).
Code Code Description Number of Respondents
Reduce creel limit Respondents felt that the agreed creel limit was too high and needs lowering. Some suggested lowering the limits for larger vessels only. 11
Increased area Respondents would like to see the pilot area extended. One reason given is to keep vivier crabbers away from the west coast. 10
Improved policing Respondents were dissatisfied with policing and desired to see something done about those that flaunt the rules. 7
Limits on permits Respondents felt that having additional vessels on their grounds undermined the benefits of the creel limitation and would like to see limits on the number of permits. 7
1000 pot limit Respondents felt that an alternative arrangement of 1000 creels per vessel, regardless of vessel size or fishery type would be a better model. 6
Area/ Species Specific Respondents felt that the limit might need to be adjusted for different areas/ different fisheries. 6
Date Extension Respondents felt that the Creel Limitation should be temporally extended beyond October 2022. 4
Regulations on other fisheries Respondents reported ongoing issues with other fisheries and suggested that they also have some regulations, for example, limits on where trawlers can fish. 3
Responsiveness Respondents were frustrated with how long it took to get the scheme going or are concerned that it may need to be more responsive in being adapted depending on shellfish stocks. 3
Educate communities Respondents suggested that more education regarding the creel limitation scheme for the wider community is needed to inform unlicensed leisure boaters and hobby fishers of management regulations. 2
Tag system Respondents suggested using a tag system to ensure all vessels have the same number of creels. 2
Evening consultation Respondents suggested that the consultations should be in the evenings as fishers often are at sea during the day 1
Gear Permits Respondents suggested issuing permits for gear types to prevent creel fishers from switching to mobile gear. 1
Exclusion zone limits Respondents suggested exclusion zones should be changed depending on vessel size. 1
Quota System Respondents felt that a quota system would be the best way of managing shellfish stocks. 1
Crew Dependent Respondents felt that the number of crew should be a determining factor in setting the creel limit. 1


Email: inshore@gov.scot

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