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Commercial Fishing

BETTER FISH STOCK SCIENCE ESSENTIAL FOR SCOTS WHITEFISH FLEET

BETTER FISH STOCK SCIENCE ESSENTIAL

Better fish stock science essential for Scots whitefish fleet. Major cuts in quota for monkfish and ling this year are proving a headache for many Scottish fishermen, which underlines the need for better science to ensure an accurate picture of stock dynamics.

This is the view of David Anderson, chief executive of the Aberdeen Fish Producers’ Organisation (AFPO), who believes a lack of data for key stocks is one the major challenges that needs to be overcome over the next few years.

Speaking to Fish Focus, he said:

“The perennial issues facing our sector are the economic forces that impact upon the industry and fluctuations in catching opportunity,

“We have seen major cuts in monkfish and ling this year, and whilst there was a welcome increase in cod, it was not to the extent that we would have liked, given the state of the stock. Scientists are now relying increasingly upon the industry as data collectors, which is a great development, although it is a pity this didn’t happen several years ago, as I believe the industry would now be in a better place. Accurate science – no matter whether it is good or bad news for stock levels – is essential to ensure proper and effective management.”

The AFPO membership is evenly split between trawlers working for a variety of species, and static gear vessels utilising long-lines and gill nets to target monkfish, ling and hake.

Small haddock and whiting are currently plentiful on the grounds, but their relatively low value compounds upon the challenges facing the fleet. The situation has been made even worse by a general scarcity of nephrops (langoustines or prawns), which would offer an alternative target fishery.

“Work is ongoing to examine how to get better economic value out of the landings of small haddock, but this takes time, and it doesn’t impact upon the current situation,” says David Anderson. “At the moment it is a case of covering the cost of catching and production, and hopefully make a small profit margin in the process.

“A key solution would be to have a flexible labour market so that processors are able to handle the catch, but a combination of politics and the resultant workforce regulations, and a reduction in processing infrastructure means there is just not to the capacity to handle bulk volumes of small haddock, which are labour intensive to process.”

Similarly, high value export species caught by AFPO boats such as ling, hake and monkfish are facing pressure from Continental supermarket groups that are keen to keep retail prices as low as possible, which impacts upon the first-sale market price.

“Hopefully, an easing in price inflation in the near future and an improved overall economic situation will help matters,” said David Anderson. “The Scottish fishing industry is incredibly resilient despite all the challenges it faces, whether it be large-scale fluctuations in quota or governmental policy. Fishing is an essential part of the food supply chain, providing high quality, nutritious products for consumers, and as such, deserves recognition for its importance.”

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