Shetland fishermen warns that the financial viability of their fleet is under threat as they face quota cuts to their most valuable catch, based on advice that scientists have admitted is uncertain.
ICES is recommending a massive 30% cut to monkfish quotas for 2023. If accepted, this would mean a cut of around 70% in monkfish quotas compared to 2019. Monkfish is the fleet’s most valuable species, accounting for a fifth of the Shetland fleet’s overall income in 2021.
Shetland Fishermen’s Association Executive Officer Daniel Lawson points out that in a note accompanying their recommendations, scientists acknowledge that their assessment is riddled with uncertainties, as stock survey work was hampered by COVID-19 and vessel breakdown.
ICES has listed monkfish as a ‘data deficient’ stock for several years – leading to a series of precautionary quota cuts in the absence of dependable stock assessments.
‘The fishing fleet simply could not, and would not, land the quantities of monkfish we are seeing on the markets if the stock was in the sort of crisis implied by the ICES quota advice of recent years,’ Daniel Lawson said.
‘Shetland crews recognise that it is in their interest to protect sustainable fish stocks for the following generation. However, they do not see any justification for an additional 30% cut to North Sea monkfish quotas when the species is evidently in good health. ICES alleging that monkfish stocks have decreased, while at the same time casting doubt on the certainty of their own stock assessment, makes it difficult for fishermen to have any faith in that advice – especially when it contrasts so starkly with what crews are finding at sea.’
The SFA has commissioned a report from the University of the Highlands and Islands into the level of local monkfish catches and landings.
This report, which collates and analyses the monkfish catch per unit effort of local vessels , shows that some crews have caught significantly higher catches of monkfish throughout 2022 compared to the same period of the previous year. No vessels were found to be catching any less monkfish, and in fact have recorded similar catch levels despite reduced fishing efforts during 2022.
UHI Shetland’s Dr Ian Napier, who helped conduct the analysis, concluded that monkfish abundance is at least the same – and certainly no lower – than it was during 2021 – showing no justification for a further 30% cut in quotas.
SFA chairman James Anderson, skipper of whitefish vessel Alison Kay (LK57), said this new data helped quantify the anecdotal evidence.
‘Shetland’s fleet has had concerns for many years with mismatched quota advice which causes needless economic harm to an essential part of our island economy, and a mental strain on fishing crews – who are left unable to catch important species despite an obvious abundance of stocks around Shetland,’ he said.
‘Fishermen are willing and ready to help scientists and governments work towards more comprehensive stock assessments and surveys, as evidenced by this new monkfish report. The situation we are in as a fishing nation – when our most valuable whitefish species is labelled as ‘data deficient’ and hasn’t been properly assessed by our governments – is a sad indication of resources and priorities.’