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Marine / Fishermen repeat their call for urgent action on EU gill netters

A screenshot the shows the extent of gill netting to the northwest of Shetland.

THE SCOTTISH Government has been told to “stop passing the buck” and come up with the “right answers” on restricting or even banning gill netting for vessels over 15 metres in Scottish waters.

Earlier this month Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) raised the temperature on the controversial issue when it joined forces with the government’s junior partner, the Scottish Greens, to call on a ban of the highly destructive method of catching fish.

In a response to parliamentary question raised by Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart, Scottish rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon confirmed that gill netting is a legitimate form of fishing in Scottish waters, “providing the relevant rules, regulations and technical standards are complied with”.

Scottish rural affairs secretary Mairi Geogeon in Lerwick in July last year. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

The cabinet secretary also said the government was well aware “of the additional spatial pressure” and was reviewing its approach as part of its future catching policy consultation.

For years, fishermen have been calling for help from their own government after countless claims of being forced out of traditional fishing grounds by mainly Spanish and French vessels setting gill nets in vast areas to the west of Shetland.

Dangerous encounters between EU gill netters and local trawlers have pushed the issue up the news agenda, while fishermen repeatedly voiced their frustration over the lack of enforcement from the authorities.

They have also raised concern over the amount of discarded plastic netting that is dumped over the side and the environmental devastation gill netting can cause to marine wildlife though unwanted bycatch.

The cabinet secretary said in her response: “We know that a number of gillnet vessels operate in Scottish waters and we understand that additional spatial pressure can occur when vessels using different types of gear are operating in close proximity to one another.

Crabs caught in discarded gill nets.

“The Future Catching Policy consultation, which closed for responses on 7 June, sought views on possible solutions to this and we welcome the input from all stakeholders to help shape next steps.”

Wishart original question on what power the Scottish government has to ban gill net fishing from all or some Scottish waters, remained unanswered though.

Daniel Lawson of the SFA said the “irresponsible practices of many non-Scottish gillnet vessels” were of serious concern to the local community.

 “The Scottish Government have asked the right questions in their consultation about restricting the activities of these offshore gillnetters, but they now need to come with the right answers,” he said.

“We have called for a ban on gillnet vessels over 15 metres operating in Scottish waters, and hope that ministers will see the merit in this – to allow responsible, small scale inshore gillnetting to continue whilst also addressing the concerns of our community.

“The Scottish Government needs to stop passing the buck on this long-running issue, and its failure to take any action so far is beyond belief.

“It has the powers and responsibility for fisheries management in our waters, and it should use those powers now to take swift and sensible action in protection of our island’s marine ecology and local economy.”

Wishart said it was high time the issue was tackled: “I have raised the issues with gillnet fishing many times with the Scottish Government.

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart. Photo: Shetland News

“Irresponsible vessels have engaged in dangerous behaviour such as the high-profile incident with the Pesorsa Dos, which appeared to attempt to foul the propellor of a local boat, the Alison Kay.

“The local fleet have also highlighted the harm caused by entanglement of marine life and sea birds as well as allegations of discarded fishing gear that becomes a danger to animal life and human life when the ‘ghost equipment’ is caught in the fleet’s everyday fishing activity.

“The Scottish Government need to also consider the space that is required by gillnetters and the impact on other boats access to fishing grounds. I look forward to the outcome of the of the Scottish Government’s future catching policy.”

Gougeon added: “The future catching policy is also intended to consider additional technical and spatial measures for all types of fishing vessels in order to reduce unwanted catches of fish and bycatch of sensitive marine species such as cetaceans.

“We are currently analysing the results from the consultation and considering policy options.”