Collaborating with Scotland’s creel fishers to reduce entanglement of minke whales, basking sharks and other marine species through gear modifications.
Background to the project
Around 28 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises live in or travel through the seas around Scotland. These waters are also important fishing grounds for the creel fishery, which catches crabs, lobsters and langoustines (known locally as prawns) in lines of pots on the seabed. The Scottish inshore fishing industry forms the backbone of many small coastal communities.
But, with thousands of miles of rope in the water, creel fishing in Scotland can pose a high risk of entanglement for minke whales, basking sharks and other marine species. Entanglement is the largest identified cause of death due to human activity for these species in Scottish seas.
We’re working with Scottish fishers to find out what changes can be made to fishing gear to reduce these entanglements and ensure it is practical for fishers to use.
The story so far...
In 2018, Members of the fishing, NGO and research sectors formed the Scottish Entanglement Alliance (SEA), which was led by NatureScot, and supported by the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation, the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme, British Divers Marine Life Rescue, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust and us at Whale and Dolphin Conservation. It was funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. The project aimed to better understand how marine species like whales and basing sharks are getting caught in fishing gear and in what numbers. During the SEA project, commercial creel fishers from all around the Scottish coast were interviewed, and their contribution and expertise were key to its success.
As a result of that project, it was estimated that in Scottish waters approximately six humpback whales, 30 minke whales and 30 basking sharks become entangled in creel fishing ropes each year. A high proportion of these entangled whales and sharks became caught in the groundline, the rope that links creel pots together in fleets on the seabed. As groundline is usually made from rope which floats, it can form arches in the water between creels in which whales and sharks can get caught by their mouths, flippers or tails. Of those entangled, 83% of minke whales, 76% of basking sharks and 50% of humpback whales (where entanglement type was reported) were caught in groundlines between creels.