Concerns have been raised that smaller boats could be “disadvantaged” by Scottish Government plans to roll out sophisticated electronic tracking technology to the fishing fleet.
Earlier this month ministers announced a consultation on fitting vessel tracking systems to all boats under 12 metres long.
The Government has also proposed fitting remote electronic monitoring (REM) – which combines CCTV, GPS and sensors to determine where a vessel is operating and what is being caught – to under 12 metre bottom-trawl vessels in certain circumstances.
The fitting of REM is seen as being an important tool to reduce bycatch in the fishing fleet – where the wrong type of fish or other marine creatures are inadvertently caught.
While REM will also become mandatory for some parts of the fleet such as scallop dredgers and pelagic boats working in Scottish waters, campaigners want the Government to roll out the technology to larger bottom-trawl vessels first.
Our Seas, an alliance of organisations working to promote more sustainable seas, said smaller boats – which tend to use methods of fishing which have less impact on the seabed – are often the “backbone of fragile rural communities”.
It recently raised concerns after “critically endangered” flapper skates were “caught as unwanted bycatch by the nets of a prawn trawler” in the waters off Gigha.
Hayley Wolcott, Our Seas co-ordinator, stressed it welcomes the move towards REM and wants to see “improved vessel monitoring systems across the Scottish commercial fleet”.
However she added: “The Scottish Government should prioritise a rollout for larger bottom-trawl vessels which undertake one of the most high impact forms of fishing, but currently have only the most basic vessel tracking requirements in place.
“For decades Scotland’s monitoring and enforcement has been unable to tackle illegal fishing practices, and these plans will only partly address that.”
Holyrood ministers “must ensure that the small-scale, low impact fishing businesses are supported to adopt this technology”, she said.
Ms Wolcott continued: “The Scottish Government must learn lessons from the UK Government’s widely-criticised rollout of vessel tracking on the small-scale fleet in England earlier this year.”
The Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation, whose members operate from smaller vessels, said it would “generally support the principle of vessel tracking”.
However national co-ordinator Bally Philp said: “If this vessel tracking proposal is implemented as proposed, the irony will be that the small-scale, low impact vessels will be more closely monitored than the larger scale, industrial bottom-trawl vessels, which currently only have basic tracking that only sends out a location ‘ping’ every two hours and therefore cannot be used to regulate the activities of those larger boats and monitor bycatch.”
He added there is a “clear case” for larger fishing boats “to be held to at least the same standard as the smallest and least impactful of our inshore day boats”, with Mr Philp calling on the Scottish Government to “prioritise fit for purpose vessel tracking” for this part of the fleet.