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New Handbook Helps Scottish Fishermen Commit to Sustainability

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SCOTLAND, UK - Fishing vessels from the Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group (SFSAG), the group that has successfully achieved Marine Stewardship Council certification for North Sea haddock and Scottish saithe, welcomed the introduction of a new handbook this week, which will help them to protect endangered, threatened and protected species of skates and rays.

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The handbook, produced for the organisation by Seafood Scotland as part of the environmental and technical service it provides for the Scottish industry, will help vessels to fulfill the requirements of their MSC programme.

Around 10,000 tonnes of saithe is fished each year by some 230 Scottish vessels using bottom trawls, pair trawls and Scottish seines.

Landings of skate and ray species in Scotland vary throughout the year, and amount to less than 500 tonnes. Markets are limited and specialised, and demand has fallen over the last 10 to 15 years.

“We produced the handbook to help fishermen improve their identification skills for the various species of skates and ray which they encounter, to have a better understanding of their biology, and to appreciate their environmental status. It will also help them to fulfil their landing and recording requirements for these species, some of which are protected through fisheries legislation, or by EU and international agreements,” explained Jess Sparks, environmental and technical manager for Seafood Scotland.

“Many species of skate and ray are slow growing, late maturing, and have low reproductive rates, which makes them particularly vulnerable to fishing pressure. In addition, their physical shape makes them difficult to avoid when they are encountered in mixed demersal fisheries targeting species such as cod, haddock and saithe,” he said.

The handbook provides guidance for the handling and release of skate and ray species and explains that large specimens are powerful and may cause harm to themselves or the crew if they are not handled correctly when being returned to the ocean.

“With their tough skins, these creatures are seen to be hardy, which leads some fishermen to assume they can survive no matter how they are handled before being put back to the sea. However, they can be easily injured and traumatised through handling, so it is important to know what practices should be used to minimize trauma and stress to the animals, so that they can be released safely,” said Jess.

Jane Sandell, SFSAG Programme Manager said: ‘While we know that the fishing industry in Scotland is one of the most environmentally aware in Europe, being able to demonstrate this is becoming more and more important for the supply chain. Fishermen have the potential to provide a window into the marine environment, and schemes such as this have a dual benefit, providing both the supply chain and a wider audience with information on lesser known species’.