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Marine / Fishing association hopes for ‘win-win situation’ with new monkfish study

SHETLAND Fishermen’s Association (SFA) has commissioned a new study to investigate a belief that the number of monkfish in the waters around the isles has increased.

The work, already being undertaken by UHI Shetland, will examine the catch rates of monkfish by Shetland vessels in response to local fishermen’s reports of an increase in catches in 2022.

Monkfish – also known as anglerfish – was the most valuable species landed by Shetland’s family-owned whitefish vessels in 2021, worth £6 million to the islands alone and making up a fifth of the fleet’s total income.

Despite its economic importance, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) – which collates scientific assessments and provides management advice to governments – has listed monkfish as a “data deficient” stock for several years.

The fishing association said this has led to a series of “precautionary” quota cuts in the absence of dependable stock assessments – with a cut to monkfish quotas of 23 per cent this year, and an overall quota cut of 55 per cent since 2019.

The new study will examine the catch rates of monkfish using information recorded by Shetland fishing boats to investigate fishermen’s belief that the abundance of monkfish has increased in the waters around the islands this year.

SFA executive officer Daniel Lawson said: “Having our nation’s most valuable whitefish catch, monkfish, listed as ‘data deficient’ isn’t good enough – and it’s fishing communities like Shetland that suffer the needless economic harm caused by the resulting mismatched precautionary cuts to quota.

“We hope that this study might be a starting point for meaningful discussions around the understanding of monkfish abundance, and the steps that can be taken to ensure a more comprehensive assessment of the stock in future years.

“Fishing crews have worked with officials recently to make improvements to our government’s scientific assessments of cod, another priority species for Shetland which has also seen drastic quota cuts in recent years.

“We’re looking for a win-win situation here: more trustworthy data for scientists, that leads to more realistic sustainable quotas for fishermen.”

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