ban gillnetters off scotland

Shetland Fishermen’s Association Chair James Anderson has called for a ban on gillnetters like the Pesorsa Dos off Scotland

The Shetland Fishermen’s Association Chairman, James Anderson has called for a ban on gillnetters from fishing in the UK waters off Scotland. 

Since the start of the COVID pandemic in March last year, Scottish fishermen has experienced an influx of EU-registered gillnetters onto their traditional fishing grounds resulting in conflict and harassment of the local fleet, as well as tying-up thousands of miles of valuable resources. 

Speaking on BBC Radio Shetland yesterday he said:  

We’re looking for legislation to stop and restrict them in the areas we traditionally fish. We need to get them restricted in some way that we can also make some money out there.  

It’s a big problem because we have cod quota that’s been cut, which is fish we caught in the shallower water, so we need to go somewhere to keep our businesses going, but when we get up there then we meet this large fleet there.

They’re not local and they are certainly not UK, but they are taking up huge areas and one boat will take up 50/60 miles at the edge and that’s totally disproportionate to the number of boats. 

The hassle that that one boat can cause. You could have half a dozen Shetland boats could working in the area where one will just say that you’re not fishing here. We’ve got the nets, down now and you can’t tow the nets away and you can’t come in here”.

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The unfortunate thing for trawlermen like James is that gillnetting is not illegal in Shetland waters and the UK has licenced these EU fishing vessels to operate in their waters. Until the Scottish Government or Westminster bans gillnetting, as Holyrood done with multi-rig trawls of more than two nets, then gillnetters are free to continue working as they are. 

“The law needs to change, says James. “When we were in the EU, were told you he just couldn’t get it done. It’s going to be too difficult. You couldn’t even discuss it basically, but we’ve left now.  

“There they are saying they will do something. Marine Scotland’s has said again that they will look at it, so hopefully we’ll get something done. I think Marine Scotland taken up within the negotiations lately, but they have indicated they going to look at this. 

Another area of concern for James is at-sea inspections: 

We have seen the data and it shows that they haven’t been doing that. There’s practically no boarding of their vessels, but most of the boardings are the local boats and I don’t know why that should be either. 

Last year, in June, James’ own fishing vessel the Alison Kay LK 57 was the victim of a well-reported attack by a German-registered Spanish-owned gillnetter the Pesorsa Dowhich had shot their gillnets right on grounds traditionally fished by Shetland fishermen like James himself. 

We were towing down an area where we we’ve always fished then he (skipper of the Pesorsa Dos) came up to us and called us and told us we couldn’t fish here. We said we could, and he said his nets were in the area. 

I said, well, we are all in the area. He could shift his nets. But yeah, then there was the incident where he tried to foul our propeller and almost hit us. And there was not no action taken against them at all.” 

This incident from last year has carried over as the gillnetters try to take a hold on the Shetland waters. The issues arose last year during the first COVID-19 lockdown when Scottish fishing vessels restricted their fishing time in order to conserve quota due to the fact the Continental markets had been shutdown or operating under restrictions.  As the Scottish boats were in port, their EU neighbours moved in on their traditional fishing grounds with their gillnets. 

At the moment there’s a few boats that have been having difficulty again this last few days. So, it’s not going to go away. They’re pretty tough and they keep going. They think they’ll keep going till we give in, and they’ll get the area but that hopefully what happened,” warned James. 

ban gillnetters off scotland

A French-registered Spanish-owned fishing vessel leaving Scrabster: Photo: John Clark

Whether these gillnetters are landing their catches in France or Spain or landing directly into Scottish ports and onto EU-registered lorries, the fish is transported directly out of the UK and into the markets in France or Spain. This means that they have no economic benefit to the local or UK economy and James believes that the Government should act in the best interests of the local fishers who are contributing their share. 

We built two new fresh markets. We’re looking at this through our local economies, but when you get those boats that go and land in Ullapool or wherever, they left their nets out fishing while their gone, the fish they land has no economic gain to the UK and then they come back again and keep going till they fished up everything and then move on.” 

James says that now the UK has left the EU, it is time something was done about this type of fishing. 

We can take management measures ourselves now. Our own Parliament can make that call and do it. They just need to have to will to do it. 

“That’s up to 200 miles. So hopefully they’ll look at it and do something because it’s just makes no sense that this could be allowed to keep happening. 

It wouldn’t happen in Iceland, Norway, no chance, so why should we let it happen? 

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Shetland Fishermen’s Association Chair calls for ban on gillnetters off Scotland

by editor time to read: 9 min