Fishing into the Future leads Scotland's fishing industry into new era

Published on
July 13, 2017

A recent three-day residential course designed to give Scottish fishermen a better grasp of the structure of the industry and opportunities that are available to improve fishing as a business is being hailed as a massive success.

Twenty-five representatives for the pelagic, whitefish and shellfish sectors of the industry attended the workshop, which was organized and managed by the nonprofit Fishing into the Future. The group said “The Business of Fishing” was developed by representatives of the Scottish fishing industry in conjunction with marine experts, and was the first of its kind in the United Kingdom.

The project was funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and major retailer Sainsbury’s, which have backed Fishing into the Future’s mission to “build prosperous and sustainable U.K. fisheries.”

Workshop presentations explored the basics of marine science and oceanography and included an introduction to the science behind fishery sampling and data collection, including fish biology and an overview of how scientists define sustainability. Stock assessment and modeling, economics, conservation, habitat protection, marine planning, certification schemes, governance, and markets were also covered in detail by the expert panel of speakers, which included representatives from Scottish government, Aberdeen University, the Marine Institute of Ireland, Seafish, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Young’s Seafood, and top industry personnel. 

A mixture of lectures, group activity and feedback sessions kept delegates alert and interested, and helped with the learning process, according to Masters. An optional session saw many of the delegates learn how to extract fish otoliths (ear-bones), which scientists use to tell the age of a fish. 

The fishermen were also honored with a visit from Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, and members of the International Sustainability Unit, an organization created by Charles, who has taken a personal interest in marine conservation issues and was keen to talk to participants to learn more about their experiences. 

According to Fishing into the Future Executive Director Jim Masters, the fishermen arrived as skeptics of fisheries science and management, but thanks to their newly gained understanding of the work that goes on behind the scenes in the wider U.K. and European fisheries sphere, they left more supportive of the processes governing their industry. 

Scallop fisherman Ian Fletcher agreed with Masters’ statement.

“My views about scientific stock assessment changed during the week, and having a greater understanding of why scientists do it the way they do, has been of great benefit,” Fletcher said.

Scottish White Fish Producer’s Association Chief Executive Mike Park, who was one of the main drivers behind the course, said that the Scottish fishing industry has taken many knocks, and seen some hard times in the recent past, but he is confident that with stocks rebuilding and management improving, the industry will benefit from a new generation of fishermen who have the tools, language, and insight to participate in and confidently engage with fisheries science and management. 

“There are huge benefits to fishermen in learning more about the science and business of what they do at sea. Husbandry and stewardship of our fish stocks and wider marine ecosystems have become key components of being a professional and successful fisherman,” Park said. “This course provided an excellent foundation for them to build on.”

Park’s optimism seems justified, following the recent news that North Sea cod –for many years deemed to be fished out and unsustainable – had entered Marine Stewardship Council assessment last month. This follows significant efforts to improve the stock by U.K. fishermen. 

Masters, too, was optimistic after the course. He said he was heartened by the fact that many of the participants left keen to increase their knowledge further and to proselytize about its benefits. He said their enthusiasm has encouraged the organizers to look at developing more streamlined courses, with the aim of opening them up to a wider audience.

“Fishing relies on hunting a wild resource. It seems crazy that within this perilous profession, fishermen can steam out of port without knowing more about the fish they are catching, or the ecosystems where they live,” he said. “We hope that through training courses like this, we can help build a confident, professionalized industry that is wholly supportive of a sustainable approach to fishing, which makes both financial and environmental sense.”

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