Fishermen use social media to track, avoid Scottish authorities

A social media platform that allegedly allows Scottish fishermen to avoid getting caught by government patrol boats for illegal fishing practices has been labeled “blatant piracy” by officials.

The social media site, which is being followed by 670 people, features photos and posts detailing sightings of the Scottish government’s three patrol boats: the Minna, Jura and Hirta. The patrol boats are on the lookout for fishers taking “black fish” in excess of their quotas, fishing in conservation areas or using illegal fishing techniques, such as electric fishing for razor clams, to acquire catch, reported the Herald Scotland.

News of the site, which went from being titled “Minna watcher” to “Protection at sea” on Facebook, has stoked ire in campaigners and politicians, and has prompted the Scottish government to ask for respect. Commentary on the site directed at the government and the former fisheries minister, Member of the Scottish Parliament Richard Lochhead, has been characterized as “abusive” according to the Herald Scotland. Many of the fishers who utilize the platform do so to defend their livelihoods – they argue that the “red tape is killing us.”

While conflict has been ongoing between fishermen and nature conservation in Scottish waters, lately tensions have risen even higher as a result of “Lochhead champion[ing] the introduction of a network of new marine protected areas to conserve wildlife,” according to the paper.

“Representatives of Scotland’s fishing industry must condemn and crack down on this blatant piracy,” Scottish Greens spokesperson Mark Ruskell told the Herald Scotland.

“If this network of fishermen are using social media to avoid contact with fishery protection vessels, they are indeed pirates,” said John Robins of wildlife collective Animal Concern. “Conservation quotas have to be monitored and adhered to or our seas will be denuded of fish. Sadly Scottish fishermen have a poor track record on conservation.”

The administrator of the Minna watcher Facebook page, when reached for comment by the Herald, say they use the site to “put dinner on the table.”

“Other papers like to sensationalize what's really going on. Make suggestions that we're European drug traffickers out to plunder the sea. When in fact most guys in the industry are Scottish-born family men struggling to make ends meet,” the Minna watcher administrator responded on the Facebook page. 

“While this Facebook page is not something we condone, it also doesn’t mean there is any illegal activity going on,” Scottish Fishermen’s Federation Chief Executive Bertie Armstrong told the newspaper.

For his part, Lochhead said the majority of Scottish fishermen behave responsibly.

“Thankfully the vast majority of fishermen these days take a much more responsible attitude than this small group,” Lochhead said.


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