The sector’s main fisheries are North-East Atlantic mackerel and horse mackerel, Northern blue whiting and North Sea, West of Scotland and Atlanto-Scandian herring.
The pelagic fleet’s main issue of sustainability is the reduction of its impact on juvenile fish and unwanted fish species. Industry initiatives have led to the development of methods to limit this bycatch. The Scottish Pelagic Sustainability Group (SPSG) was established in 2007 to take forward a number of sustainability initiatives emanating from the joint industry/departmental Pelagic Strategy Group. Following best practice recommended by industry organisations, pelagic vessels use hand lines or small-scale jigging machines to take a sample from a shoal, to determine the size of the fish before shooting their nets. By doing this the fishermen prevent the capture of small, unmarketable fish, ensuring that only the targeted size are taken. There is further work ongoing with the industry looking at using different methods to sample fish size when shoals of fish are encountered.
At sea, information on small fish gained in this way will immediately be shared with other boats in the area, regardless of nationality, to facilitate avoidance. Recognising that juvenile fish are tomorrow’s spawning stock, there is industry-wide consensus on these preventative methods. By avoiding shoals of small fish, the Scottish pelagic industry is helping to ensure a sustainable future for both the fish stocks and, in turn, the industry (see our page on the independent certification of fisheries for more information on sustainability initiatives by the Scottish pelagic industry).