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Marine / Watch: Gillnetting protest steps up a gear with march through street

All photos: Chris Cope/Shetland News

CAMPAIGNERS who want to see a ban on the controversial fishing practice of industrial gillnetting took to the streets of Lerwick on Saturday in what was their second public protest in the town.

The march through Commercial Street kicked off at the Market Cross shortly after midday, and it finished up near the Fort fish and chip shop.

Around 30 people took part, including five councillors – co-organiser Alex Armitage, Allison Duncan, Dennis Leask, Moraig Lyall and Davie Sandison.

It comes after a protest was held at the Cross in August.

The events have been organised by the Fishing Forward UK group, which wants to see greater ecological, social and economic sustainability in the UK catching and processing sectors, while the Green party are on board too.

The aim is to see industrial gillnetting in boats over 15 metres banned because of the “endless destruction and cruelty to marine life and birds”, including in the waters around Shetland.

Only a few weeks ago Shetland Islands Council agreed to write to the Scottish Government to request just that after the development department compiled a report on the matter. The local fishermen’s association has also spoken up about the issue too.

The topic is long-running and centres around visiting boats that use large gillnets.

Gillnetting 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.

There are also concerns that gillnetters squeeze out local boats from their traditional grounds to the west of Shetland.

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Speaking as the march reached the end of the street, Green councillor Armitage said: “This is a message to [rural affairs secretary] Mairi Gougeon of the Scottish Government – we want to ban industrial gillnetting in Scottish seas.

“We need to protect our oceans, protect our coastal communities and protect our marine ecology. We need to listen to voices of the people in Shetland.”

He said prior to the march “we don’t have any other option” than to continue protesting if nothing changes.

Armitage said there was a mix of fishers involved in the campaign, as well as environmentalists and “ordinary Shetlanders who feel strongly that we need to look after the interests of a sustainable fishing industry.”

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