S.O.U.L. ......Shetland & Orkney Udal Law group.


S.O.U.L. Conservation of Fish Resources:

Sustainable Fisheries Management (draft) Plan

Fish stocks are the single most important renewable highly nutritional food resource any nation could possess and therefore extremely valuable to that nation and as such should be protected at local level so as to enable the fishery to be completely sustainable for future generations.

In our opinion Shetland & Orkney’s fishing heritage has been taken away and destroyed for political gain. We now have to reinstate the fishing industry of Shetland and Orkney to the fishermen of these islands - the true and rightful owners.

The most important conservation tool in a Sustainable Fishery of any description is the local control of that fishery. This enables the fisheries management board to react quickly to protect fish stocks against any sudden change in conditions on the fishing grounds and avoid an ‘over fishing’ situation. We in Shetland and Scotland have witnessed the futile and ineffective efforts of the EU to manage fish stocks in a sustainable way. The Shetland & Orkney fishing fleets have followed the common fisheries policy rules for thirty years and watched fish stocks being destroyed. The fisheries department in Europe has had feedback from fishermen, but it is usually ignored.

The current EU answer to fish stock decline is the draconian measure of decommissioning as many of the Shetland, Orkney and Scottish fishing vessels as possible - irrespective of the social or economic impact on rural areas highly dependent on fishing.

Fishing nations of the world should tailor their fishing fleets carefully to suit their own territorial waters and the fishing grounds available to them. In this way we would see a more responsible approach to fishery management locally and worldwide. It is well known that fishing vessels fishing in other countries' waters do not always act in a responsible manner towards fish stocks. This then leads to the destruction of a valuable resource and to conflict between nations.

Our aims are simple -

  • Regain control of our sea and seabed out to the continental shelf edge under Udal Law.
  • Establish a Shetland and Orkney Maritime Zone, (SOMZ) assert the right, under Udal Law, to freedom from the Crown Estate Commissioners illegal sea and seabed tax in Shetland and Orkney.
  • Find a way of incorporating all of the above in a new relationship between Shetland and Orkney the UK Government, Scottish Executive, and EU.
  • Establish Shetland and Orkney’s own seat at the Table at future EU fisheries negotiations.

We can then manage and care for our own fish stocks and future fishing industry economy.

We consider fisheries to be much too important an issue for the Shetland and Orkney islands not to have their own representative team at these talks. We have witnessed the demise of our industry by allowing representation to be made from Westminster by ministers unaffected by their decisions.

We must have strong representations at any fisheries talks within the EU, and worldwide, it is therefore paramount that we seek to establish our own SOMZ seat at the table in any negotiations regarding the fisheries of these islands. We need a strong team of interested people with individuals from the SIC, SOUL, Fishermen’s Association, Legal, Producers Association and others, to make up a formidable industry supporting team.

‘Tailored’ fishing fleets from various countries can then enter into reciprocal fishing arrangements with Shetland & Orkney in a proper and fair, business like manner. As we see it, this approach would not jeopardise any nation’s fish stocks and control of fishing would be simple.

Local management of fishing grounds is paramount in the quest for Sustainable Fishing with daily data collection:

  • The quantity of fish on the grounds.
  • Size of hauls.
  • Feed availability.
  • Size of fish.
  • Breakdown of species.
  • Sea temperature (vital).
  • Location of concentrations of immature fish.
  • Concentrations of fishing vessels.
  • Fishing effort.
  • Fishing methods of vessels.
  • Number of vessels fishing.
  • Weather conditions.
  • Tonnage of fish caught from the managed area.
  • Size of fish caught.
  • Port landed.
  • Quality of fish landed.
  • Fish prices.
  • Plus many other variables to consider.

The accurate collection of data from fishing vessels, markets and scientific surveys are all very important tools in the assessment of fish stock condition and therefore every effort must be made to have current and accurate information from all these sources, and others. It is well known that information on catches from fishermen have not been accurately included in the fish stock biomass calculations and therefore inaccurate information input has led to assumptions being made on stock size. There is no accurate data collection of fish catches from the Shetland & Orkney fishing waters at the present time in tonnage, species breakdown, or area. This inaccurate data eventually leads to false recommendations being made to reduce the quota of fish available for catching.

For example, the cutting of the TAC or Total Allowable Catch for a particular species, e.g. cod, does little or nothing to preserve the stock of cod. This is plainly obvious to all concerned. Fishermen will still continue to catch cod in a mixed fishery, and simply discard the small and less profitable fish in order to keep the most profitable large ones. We then arrive at a situation where there is only a certain size of cod being landed and therefore the assumption is made by data collectors that there are few smaller cod on the fishing grounds.

The current and past efforts at fish stock management are ineffective and have plainly not worked. The brutal conservation measures employed today lead to squeezing family fishing vessels into near bankruptcy until they have no option left but to accept a destructive decommissioning package from politicians that are trying to appear as helping the industry and cover up for past failings. These political failings in fisheries management are not new but have been allowed to continue for as long as thirty five years, until crisis measures have to be taken. In our view the blame for the current situation lies squarely at the feet of our politicians. It has often been said fishermen have been ‘over fishing’. How does a fisherman know when he is ‘over fishing’? It is well known that fishermen have told the scientists and authority about certain aspects of fish conservation that had been worrying them over the years but their hands on input has very often been ignored by government.

One very famous and clear conservation worry came from the Norwegian Herring fishermen fishing Shetland waters at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s. They told the Government at the time that they would have to put into place a fisheries management programme that would restrict the amount of herring they could catch as they had real concerns about the stock of herring being fished out. The Government did nothing and the herring stock collapsed. The herring fishing in the North Sea had to be closed for eight years until the stock recovered.

The clear message is that if Shetland at the time had had ‘local control’ over its herring fishing, with an experienced Shetland Islands Council management team in charge, the fishery could have been controlled in a sustainable way. This would have avoided the complete closure that resulted in the demise of the majority of the herring markets, which today, twenty five years later, have not fully recovered. A whole generation got out of the habit of buying herring.

We can gather some facts together and make a good assumption as to why the fish stocks are not in a very healthy state. Incidentally, fishermen know that fish stocks are better than most scientists will admit. Fishermen know the correct amount of fish being landed and the correct amount of small fish on the grounds being discarded, which gives them a better overall picture on stock state.

The experiment carried out in 1984 by the Shetland trawler Aquilla into the effects of industrial trawling for Norway Pout on white fish stocks in Shetland waters, highlighted some alarming details on the destruction of immature whitefish in this fishing practice. The ‘acceptable’ by-catch of immature fish at the time was 18%. The Aquilla’s catch contained 26% of immature fish. This experiment clearly proved that industrial fishing for Norway Pout for fishmeal production had a serious and detrimental effect on immature whitefish stocks.

Today we have an EC allowable immature whitefish by-catch of 5% in industrial trawling in our cod recovery nursery area.

If we start to add some figures into this ‘allowable’ by-catch of immature fish it can start to mean something.

e.g. let us consider a 1000 tonne catch of Norway Pout with a 5% by-catch. This is 50 tonnes of immature fish.

Let us say 1.66% Cod = 16.6 tonnes, 1.66% Haddock = 16.6 tonnes, 1.66% Whiting = 16.6 tonnes all at 300 gms weight. If we consider these immature fish being allowed to stay undisturbed in the sea and allowed to grow to a reasonable size.

Cod 3kg (not unreasonable) would then = 166.6 tonnes @ £2000/ tonne = £333,200

Haddock 1.5 kg (not unreasonable) would then = 83 tonnes @ £1500/ tonne = £124,500

Whiting .75 kg (not unreasonable) would then = 41.5 tonnes @ £ 750/ tonne = £31,125

The totals on this equation would then be-- 291 tonnes destroyed = £488,825 for 1000 tonnes catch.

If these fish were allowed to grow then this is a 29% by-catch for a 1000 tonne catch of Norway Pout.

The Norway Pout total catch in 2000 was 207,090 tonnes.

The industrial sand eel fishery in 2000 was 739,518 tonnes.

The north sea industrial catch for FISHMEAL PRODUCTION in 2000 was 946,608 tonnes.

If we consider a 5% immature fish by-catch of 946,608 tonnes then the small fish destroyed by industrial trawling is 47,331 tonnes which if allowed to grow and mature to spawning age would represent approximately 274,517 tonnes of edible whitefish.

These figures are quite alarming when you then consider the unquantifiable spawning power of these fish which could have survived to maturity and been greatly adding to the overall spawning biomass of mature fish.

The poor state of whitefish stocks in the North Sea certainly reflects poor recruitment of new fish into the spawning stock and it is not questionable that industrial fishing has had a serious effect on stocks. As we have seen in past industrial trawling ‘experiments’ the by-catch of immature fish can be as high as 26% so it is not surprising whitefish stocks are now so low.


The Cod Recovery Programme that has been put in place by the EU this year will do nothing to conserve the cod stock as long as industrial trawling is allowed to continue on the same cod nursery grounds. The fishing vessels of Shetland and Scotland fishing with 120 mm mesh trawls are only allowed 15 fishing days per month. The Danish industrial trawlers fishing with 16 mm mesh trawls are allowed unrestricted fishing on the same cod nursery breeding grounds.

We know there have been alarmist predictions on cod stocks in the North Sea lately. It is well known that cod only accumulate in feeding areas and some cod sampling has been done in areas where feed was scarce or simply absent altogether. In our experience sampling should be done in areas of high concentrations of feed. cod feed on almost any small fish present including themselves.

The sand eels and food chain on our fishing grounds have to be studied in detail to understand more about the way the system works as a whole.

There is now a desperate shortage of sand eels and food for our breeding seabirds, with the result that we are seeing the rapid decline of our seabird colonies. We need to protect the sand eel stock at all costs but we need more detailed surveys on the sand eel food situation and vital sea temperatures.

Some of the conservation measures taken by the Shetland fishing fleet during the past ten years are as follows:-

  1. The Shetland whitefish fleet has been reduced by 30% during the past 10 years.
  2. The mesh size of trawl nets has increased from 90 mm to 120 mm thus letting more small fish escape.
  3. Whitefish vessels are now only allowed 15 fishing days per month.
  4. This has represented an overall reduction in fishing effort in the last ten years of 65% by Shetland.
  5. Shetland fishing vessels do not fish for Norway Pout.
  6. The large Shetland whitefish trawlers do not fish for sand eels.

THE WAY FORWARD: - Under Local Control

The measures we at SOUL would put in place to protect and improve fish stocks in our Shetland & Orkney Maritime Zone under local control are as follows:-

  1. Work towards a sustainable Fisheries Accreditation by the Marine Stewardship Council. This has to be done with full assistance and consultation of fishermen. We are well aware of the over regulation of our fishing fleet and have to implement a system that is less restrictive and allows vessels to earn a living.
  2. Establish a Shetland & Orkney Marine Zone - SOMZ, where the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea meet. Properly managed, this could be a massive breeding ground for fish which would feed into the surrounding areas - the North Sea, West of Scotland and North Atlantic - to their great benefit,. This would occur naturally as the Shetland and Orkney Maritime Zone is situated in a sea area with very strong tidal currents and the Gulf Stream, which would disperse fish widely.
  3. We have to stop industrial trawling on our fishing grounds as this is destroying the immature whitefish stocks and removing part of the food chain from the sea for fish and seabirds alike. This is clear to see.
  4. We need to look seriously at encouraging our fishermen to use longline and other passive fishing methods. Financial assistance for passive fishing changeover has to be made available.
  5. To reduce discards and wastage of immature fish there must be a 'land all' policy.
  6. Rock hopper trawling has to be stopped in areas of high concentrations of immature fish and breeding grounds with closed areas for fish protection with full consultation with fishermen.
  7. We have to look at ways to eventually stop rock hopper trawling on inshore grounds over a period of probably several years with light trawling only on inshore fishing grounds.
  8. We need to encourage a small boat fishery inside a protected inshore area to allow young fishermen to enter the industry affordably. Encouragement should be given to mini-long line and jigging.
  9. Pair seining and twin rig trawling for bottom fish in the SOMZ should be curtailed and all fishing methods studied for their detrimental effects.
  10. Selector trawl flexi-panel devices should be developed in offshore fishing for use with large trawlers to avoid catching unwanted or immature fish.
  11. Encouragement should be given to broaden the variation in size of our fishing vessels from smaller inshore vessels to large ocean going trawlers.
  12. The minimum landing size of some spices of less valuable fish should be examined and increased in some cases after consultation.
  13. Areas of small fish concentrations should be closed for certain periods at a time and known spawning areas closed at spawning times.
  14. Discussions will have to take place with the industry on the possibility, and benefits, of permanently closed breeding areas e.g. As in New Zealand & Faeroe.
  15. The possibility of a cod breeding programme has to be investigated, similar to the Salmon breeding and release programme in Alaska. Release has to be in trawl free areas.
  16. The benefits of artificial reef habitats should be explored in programmes worldwide to see if we can implement such programmes in our SOMZ to the benefit of fishstocks.
  17. Scientific investigation into inshore feed has to be made to determine why sand eels and feed do not appear for our fish and seabirds in the summer months.
  18. The possibility of plankton breeding stations to encourage inshore feed in years of scarcity should be investigated.
  19. We are witnessing a large increase in seal numbers and if we are to co-exist with these animals then we must encourage more fish to our inshore waters for seals and fishermen. Local control is the only answer.
  20. We must investigate other methods of fishermen earning a living passively i.e. a prawn creel fishery could be established in a trawl free zone.
  21. Fishing licences should be held by the SIC and have no value as in other countries. The young fishermen could then afford to enter the industry.
  22. The best conservation measures from other countries should be used to our advantage.
  23. Fishing in our SOMZ would be controlled by a days at sea system with a land all policy thus avoiding dumping cheaper fish. The more fish on the grounds the more days allocated.
  24. Pelagic trawlers or puse seiners with graders on board would be excluded from our SOMZ thus avoiding the bad practice of grading out and dumping small pelagic fish.
  25. An extensive lobster breeding and release programme would be included. Releases being in no take areas such as artificial reefs or sanctuaries.
  26. A Shetland & Orkney fishing boat register together with a shipping register should be implemented with the associated benefits to the islands.
  27. The landing of ungutted fish should be stopped with full emphasis on maximum value.
  28. The reported adverse effect of navy submarine sonar systems on fish stocks has to be investigated.

All these measures can be undertaken to protect our fishing grounds and fishing industry. We can then begin to rebuild our fishing fleet in a controlled manner under local control.

SHETLAND & ORKNEY could be and should be world leaders in fish conservation coupled with a vibrant fishing industry. In our opinion the two can co-exist comfortably together given local control and a local management team with ideas focussed on sustainability.

Historical Footnote: - In 1749 the cod reportedly vanished from the Newfoundland Grand Banks! It could not have been by over fishing at that time - must have been some natural event.



Thanks to the many Shetland fishermen’s ideas and suggestions that contributed to this ‘Sustainability’ document.

Prepared by: - Alastair Inkster, Skipper & Chief Engineer of 31 years experience.

S.O.U.L. is a non-profit, non-political voluntary organisation working on behalf of the people of Shetland and Orkney. This website is intended to stimulate open discussion and will inevitably change as we find out more. is appreciated.