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Commercial Fishing



Good Scottish ling catches underlines importance of new research project. The abundance of ling on Scottish fishing grounds has been vividly illustrated by good landings of the fish at Peterhead fish market over the last fortnight where more than 2,000 boxes have been landed.

While this might seem good news, ling is currently regarded as a data-poor category 3 stock, and the advice for 2024 was for a 12% cut, despite fishermen believing the stock to be in a good state, based on their catches. Certainly, the landing figures from Peterhead over the last fortnight would suggest that fishermen’s perception of ling being plentiful is correct.

John Anderson, CEO of the Scottish Fishermen’s Organisation (SFO), told Fish Focus that the situation with ling was ‘frustrating’ but was hopeful a  Fishing Industry Science Partnership project led by Shetland UHI, and partnered by the SFO and the Shetland Fish Producers’ Organisation utilising innovative BATmap technology would result in enhanced knowledge of the stock and better management.

He said:

“The volume of ling landed to market is a function of where and when the boats are fishing and what else they are targeting and unlike some other species, the market price has been relatively good in recent weeks. Ling is an important component of our mixed fishery – SFO vessels typically land around 2,000 tonnes each year worth upwards of £3 million. It is therefore frustrating that it is still classed as a data limited category 3 stock where highly precautionary advice is implemented based on what is essentially trends in Norwegian longline catches.

“We need a much better understanding of this stock’s abundance in Scottish waters, and I’m pleased that we are contributing to increasing the knowledge base via our BATmap technology.”

The mismatch between ling abundance and quota cuts results in ling having the potential to become a ‘choke species’ for boats operating in mixed fisheries, meaning fishing operations may have to cease due to their quota limit for ling being breached, despite a vessel still having plenty of quota for other species. BATmap, or By-catch Avoidance Tool using mapping, is an app for Scottish skippers to share real-time information about the location of hotspots of fish species that are choke species or are of conservation interest.

Dr Paul Macdonald, SFO senior fisheries analyst, who runs BATmap for the organisation, added:

“It is unclear whether the subareas covered in the ling advice constitute a single stock or if they comprise several sub-stocks (similar to the recent scenario with Northern Shelf cod).

“There needs to be a concerted effort to move towards an improved assessment methodology that will provide more robust advice that better reflects the reality being seen on the grounds by our skippers. We recognise that the industry has a role to play in these efforts and this is why we partnered with Shetland UHI and SFPO for the current initiative.

“We are contributing our innovative BATmap software and expertise to the project, which provides a platform to collect important information on ling. We are hopeful that this will be the start of a collective effort to move ling advice to a more sensible and robust footing.”