Shetland’s NAFC Marine Centre has teamed up with fishers to deliver a wealth of information on key commercial stocks the northern North Sea.
The two-year project conducted by the Scalloway-based scientists and local skippers has provided new insight into ling, monkfish, lemon sole, plaice, hake and megrim populations.
When not much is known about the state of any given fish stock, the European Commission adopts a “precautionary approach” that can result in annual quota reductions.
The Shetland data will now be made available to scientific body the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea for stock benchmarking exercises and assessments in coming years.
“This is a great example of scientists and fishermen working together for mutual benefit,” said Simon Collins, executive officer of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association.
He added: “By making regular observer trips on board local boats and requesting that fishermen return tagged fish, scientists have gained valuable knowledge about the biological health and distribution of these stocks.
“Our fishermen should also gain when this information is fed through into the quota-setting process.”
“This is particularly important for a species like hake, whose population has exploded in the North Sea in recent times but for which our quotas have been very low.
“When you have a mixed fishery as we do in the waters around Shetland it is plain to see that a low quota for an abundant species like hake is exhausted very quickly.”
Mr Collins said better data should help to tackle “real and totally unnecessary problems” for the industry when the discard ban kicks in for white-fish from the start of 2016.
“The sooner the science catches up with what our members see on the fishing grounds day after day the better,” he added.
Project team leader Paul Macdonald from the NAFC Marine Centre said he hoped further funding would be forthcoming to continue the work he and his fellow researchers have already done, thanks to support from the Scottish Government and European Fisheries Fund.
Mr Macdonald added: “An important consideration for any data collection is consistency.
“A significant break in the data series has the potential to undermine the efficacy of the data collected to date, so it is important from a scientific and commercial point of view that this work continues.”
He also said the results of the work done to date showed quota cuts led to significant discards of species such as hake, backing up what fishers have been saying for years.