Fishermen in Shetland have joined forces with the local Green party to demand a ban on gillnetting in Scottish waters.
The two organisations have written in forceful terms to Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, urging an end to the practice by foreign vessels, which is highly destructive for both the local economy and marine ecology.
Gillnettting uses huge monofilament plastic nets that cover vast areas of sea and are designed to catch everything swimming in their vicinity, often resulting in the entanglement of sea mammals and birds.
The nets are generally discarded in the water after use, posing a continued threat both to wildlife and to shipping traffic. The nets are regularly dragged up by local fishing vessels.
The visiting vessels squeeze out Shetland boats and have on occasions adopted dangerous tactics, such as that of a Spanish-owned, German-registered gillnetter that tried to run a rope through the propeller of a local whitefish trawler in 2020.
Gillnetting has been a serious issue for more than 10 years, and the unlikely alliance between fishermen and greens is symbolic of a deep frustration in the community at the lack of action by the Scottish Government to protect local waters, wildlife and the cornerstone of the island economy.
Sheila Keith, SFA executive officer, said: “The difficulties in the intensive gillnetting in the waters around Shetland stem from the fact that it is a mixed fishery, giving these vessels no way of being selective in the species they catch.
“Criticism over the high bycatch rates and mortality of species such as seals, crabs and seabirds, all evidenced in the catalogue of photographs captured by our members, leads us to question why Maine Scotland is failing to act.
“It is time to regulate these destructive fishing practices, failures around the disposal of waste and discarding of fishing gear, before the damage becomes irreversible.”
Alex Armitage of the Shetland Greens said: “As a Shetland Green councillor I was elected on a manifesto commitment to sustain our fisheries and our marine ecosystems.
“We cannot allow intensive gillnetting to continue in Scottish waters; not only is it decimating our marine environment but gillnet crews are trashing our seas with their used nets and domestic rubbish.
“Greens support responsible, sustainable fishing and I’m happy to be working with the Shetland Fishermen’s Association and all fishers who want to sustain our marine economy and ecology for the future.”
SFA & Shetland Greens Open Letter