Only small proportion of seas regularly fished reveals new analysis

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The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) says a new report analysing the fishing activity patterns of vessels in an area of the northern North Sea has underlined the ‘light touch’ activities of the fishing fleet.

The report by the NAFC Marine Centre in Shetland describes an analysis of vessel monitoring system (VMS) data for Scottish whitefish fishing vessels in the area of the northern North Sea around Shetland.

The results indicate that while a high proportion of the area was fished at some time over the six-year period from 2006 to 2011, only a much smaller area was fished on a regular or repeated basis.

In addition, a high proportion of the fishing activity was concentrated in a relatively small proportion of the area.

SFF chief executive, Bertie Armstrong, said: “Despite the northern North Sea being one of the Scottish fleet’s most important fishing areas, this report highlights that significant areas are only lightly fished, with less than a quarter of the area being targeted on an annual basis.

“It is a common misconception that large areas of our seas are heavily fished and this report provides confirmation that the reality is very different.”

The report also reveals that there was an overall decline in the level of fishing activity over the period analysed, although the level of activity increased within the 12-mile limit around Shetland. Changes were also seen in the distribution of fishing activity, with increases mainly in more inshore areas and decreases in many areas further offshore.

Commenting on this, Mr Armstrong said: “Much of this increase in fishing effort within the 12-mile limit is almost certainly a result of increasing effort restrictions on the fleet, forcing vessels to concentrate their activities nearer to port so as to make a living.

“This exhibits the unintended consequences that can often materialise when imposing regulations, which in turn highlights the ever-present need for an intelligent and common-sense approach to fisheries management.”