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Prawn Fishermen Develop New Prawn Trawls to Reduce Discards

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SCOTLAND, UK - Scottish prawn fishermen have responded dramatically to the challenge to significantly reduce cod and other fish discards by developing and introducing a number of innovative trawl designs that have cut unwanted fish by-catches by around 70 per cent in sea-going trials.

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These pioneering conservation measures will be highlighted by SFF chief executive Bertie Armstrong tomorrow (8 June) at the Skipper Expo International event in Aberdeen as he accompanies Scotlands Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead on a tour of the stands.

Fed-up with the slow bureaucratic workings of the European Commission and the annual implementation of totally inappropriate and restrictive regulations, Scottish fishermen are adopting a pro-active response by developing their own conservation measures that they hope will gain the official support of the EC, and which will ultimately lead to better fisheries management in the future.

Already, one of the trawls developed by the Scottish industry has been approved by the European Commissions advisory scientific and technical committee, with another design having just been endorsed by Marine Scotland. Other trawl designs are currently under-going assessment.

These latest innovations by skippers and netmakers are an integral part of the Scottish fishing industrys determination to pioneer and take the lead in sustainable fisheries management. It was also the necessary response to the outcome of last December EC Fisheries Council that saw the number of days that the prawn fleet could put to sea slashed to totally unviable levels as part of the ECs cod recovery plan.

The development of these prawn trawls is going hand-in-hand with other conservation initiatives pioneered by the Scottish whitefish sector, including real time area closures to protect stocks and technical alterations to fishing gear. The Scottish fishing industry is hoping that such measures will bring to an end to the annual cuts in the number of days that boats can put to sea.

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermens Federation, says: Essentially, we have developed a bottom up approach to fisheries management, where we produce the ideas and the innovation for the EC to accept, rather than the other way around.

The outcome of last Decembers Fish Council was shocking and showed the complete lack of understanding at the highest levels about the technical complexities of fishing, But rather than just complain loudly while watching the industry suffer serious damage, the Scottish prawn catching sector got together and forged an agreement to develop new types of highly selective gear across all those parts of the industry where discarding problems existed. It was a case of fishermen taking things into their own hands in the face of inflexible micro-management and bad decision-making from Europe that was killing our industry and doing little for stock conservation.

This idea of developing highly selective gear for fisheries with a discard problem is being embraced by the Scottish Government, whose support is vital to ensure that the new measures can be accepted into local regulations, as well as for conducting dialogue with the EC to ensure full endorsement.

The first trawl developed has been dubbed the flip-flap trawl, and was designed by Gamrie Bay Prawn Trawls in Gardenstown. It features an inclined panel inside the trawl with a loose flap at the bottom. The majority of cod and other roundfish are directed up the panel and out through an escape hole at the top of the net, whilst prawns move along the bottom section and into the back of the trawl. This trawl was recently approved by the ECs Scientific and Technical Committee for Fisheries (STCEF).

Another design works on a similar principle and has been developed by Faithlie Trawl in Fraserburgh. This trawl has just gained approval from Marine Scotland. Additional selective trawl designs are in the pipeline from other netmakers, including Scotnet and Pisces, with it being seen as important to have a variety of gear types so as to meet the specifics of different prawn fisheries found around the Scottish coast.

Trials of these trawls have seen a reduction in the cod and roundfish catch by around 70 per cent, with the remaining fish caught being within boats quota levels for these species. It is essential to continue development of these and a number of other innovative trawl designs, recognising the fact that no one design will suit all fisheries.

The challenge has been to produce prawn trawls that dont eliminate cod and roundfish catches entirely but keep a balance of fish within the quota available, thus resulting in a discard free fishery. This will move us towards a complete solution, developed and endorsed by the industry, said Mr Armstrong.

We have developed these trawls within an incredibly tight timescale and credit should be given to the Scottish Government for their strong support. It is now up to the EC to respond quickly and recognise the efforts that have been made. This response from the industry has not been made without considerable pain and effort, and the designs developed should not be seen as a panacea rather a move towards a complete solution. But what has been achieved so far is something every fisherman in Scotland can take considerable pride in.