There will be a significant increase this year in the quantity of fish catch information collected by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation (SFF) Onboard Observer Scheme and used by Marine Scotland Science (MSS) as part of the international stock assessment process.
The utilisation of such independent fisheries information from fishing boats over a broad sweep of inshore and offshore areas complements Marine Scotland’s own sampling work and ensures the provision of much more comprehensive stock data than would otherwise be possible. The SFF and MSS have worked collaboratively to develop the robust statistically designed programme of sampling which underpins the initiative.
This in turn leads to better informed fisheries management decisions and is particularly important for stocks where data was previously limited. Under current Common Fisheries Policy regulations, data limited stocks often undergo annual catch reductions, despite the fact that they could be in a healthy state. It is estimated that data deficient stocks represent approximately a third of the total value of demersal species landed by Scottish vessels, with a value of around £40m.
First launched in 2008 as part of the management and control mechanism for the EU’s Cod Recovery Plan, the EFF (European Fisheries Fund) funded Onboard Observer Scheme has now been developed and expanded to the extent that it makes a major contribution in the overall stock assessment process. The SFF currently employs six observers who collect information on the quantities, the sizes and the ages of fish while onboard active fishing vessels.
Kenny Coull, SFF Marine Policy Officer, said: “The major plus point of the Onboard Observer Scheme is that it covers a huge area of our seas, both inshore and offshore, and provides a much more comprehensive data source than was previously possible. Such information will be particularly crucial this year because of the impending introduction of the discard ban for our demersal fleets.
“The Onboard Observer Scheme also delivers advantages in other ways, for example in assessing the economic impact of new types of selective fishing gear. We anticipate the scheme will further develop over the coming years, leading to a more inclusive and transparent fisheries management system.”
Nick Bailey, MSS Programme Manager of Sea Fisheries, said: “One of the challenges in providing information for fish stock assessments is making sure that adequate unbiased sampling takes place in order to provide confidence in the assessment outcomes. The expansion of observer coverage provided by this joint initiative represents a very positive step towards improving the underpinning of information. Working in cooperation with SFF observers it has been possible to encourage rigorous procedures and exchange of ideas for mutual benefit.”