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Marine / Fishermen join forces with Greens in fight against damaging gill netting

Green councillor Alex Armitage and SFA executive officer Sheila Keith both signed the letter to the cabinet secretary. Photo: SFA

FISHERMEN in Shetland are working together with an unlikely local ally in their demand to stop highly destructive gill netting in Scottish waters.

The local branch of the Scottish Greens and the Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) have now written “in forceful terms” to the Scottish cabinet secretary for rural affairs and the islands, Mairi Gougeon, urging her to end the practice by foreign vessels.

Gill netting uses huge monofilament plastic nets that cover vast areas of sea and are designed to catch everything swimming in their vicinity, often resulting in the entanglement of sea mammals and birds.

The nets are generally discarded in the water after use, posing a continued threat both to wildlife and to shipping traffic. The nets are regularly dragged up by local fishing vessels.

Both organisations have been campaigning for many years to stop the practice. The Greens are a junior partner in the Scottish Government and hold two ministerial posts.

The SFA has repeatedly complained to Scottish ministers that these vessels squeeze out local boats from their traditional grounds to the west of Shetland.

On occasions they adopted dangerous tactics, they claim, such as that of a Spanish-owned, German-registered gillnetter which allegedly tried to run a rope through the propeller of a local whitefish trawler in 2020.

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SFA executive officer Sheila Keith said the unlikely alliance between fishermen and Greens is symbolic of a deep frustration in the community at the lack of action by the Scottish Government to protect local waters, wildlife and the cornerstone of the island economy.

“The difficulties in the intensive gillnetting in the waters around Shetland stem from the fact that it is a mixed fishery, giving these vessels no way of being selective in the species they catch,” she said.

“Criticism over the high bycatch rates and mortality of species such as seals, crabs and seabirds, all evidenced in the catalogue of photographs captured by our members, leads us to question why Marine Scotland is failing to act.

“It is time to regulate these destructive fishing practices, failures around the disposal of waste and discarding of fishing gear, before the damage becomes irreversible.”

Newly elected Green councillor Alex Armitage added: “As a Shetland Green councillor I was elected on a manifesto commitment to sustain our fisheries and our marine ecosystems.

“We cannot allow intensive gillnetting to continue in Scottish waters; not only is it decimating our marine environment, but gillnet crews are trashing our seas with their used nets and domestic rubbish.

“Greens support responsible, sustainable fishing and I’m happy to be working with the Shetland Fishermen’s Association and all fishers who want to sustain our marine economy and ecology for the future.”

The Scottish Government has been contacted for a response.