Scottish west coast fishermen are trialling real-time software system to report cod and whiting catches. Image: Fisheries Innovation Scotland

A pioneering collaboration between Scottish fishermen and scientists utilises the latest technology to avoid unwanted catches of cod and whiting.

Between now and the end of 2020, fishermen on the west coast of Scotland will be trialling a real-time software system to report cod and whiting catches. If catches are too high, an automatic alert will be triggered to inform other participating vessels in the vicinity so they can avoid these areas.

‘We are working with fisheries experts from around the globe to develop a system that works for our fishermen and our fisheries. An essential element of this initiative has been getting the fishermen involved in the project from the offset – this innovative approach simply won’t work without their buy-in or expertise,’ explained SFO Fisheries Analyst Paul Macdonald.

The project is led by the Scottish Fishermen’s Organisation (SFO), the University of Aberdeen and Fisheries Innovation Scotland (FIS), with support from the other Scottish POs, the Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association, Seafish and US-based IT company Chordata LLC.

It follows the European Union’s zero-catch advice for cod and whiting on the west coast due a decline in these stocks. To allow fishing for healthy stocks such as haddock and monkfish to continue in what is a mixed fishery, by-catch measures for cod and whiting have been introduced.

‘Faced with zero catch advice for West of Scotland cod and whiting and a ban on discarding, this ground-breaking real-time reporting initiative demonstrates that Scottish fishermen are actively taking the lead in developing new and innovative ways of hot-spot avoidance that should ultimately improve both the sustainability and viability of their fishing operations,’ said SFO Chief Executive John Anderson.

‘This project is a first for the UK, and indeed Europe. Sharing data for the common good is the real innovation here. The co-operative approach reflects the industry’s shared commitment to avoiding bycatch. The software is being co-designed by experienced IT specialists and Scottish fishermen to ensure that it meets requirements data security and confidentiality,’ commented Tara Marshall, Senior Lecturer at the University of Aberdeen.

The project is a great example of innovative and trusted collaboration between industry and science, according to Kara Brydson, Executive Director of Fisheries Innovation Scotland.

‘Reducing the catch of unwanted species is a major challenge for us all, so this partnership can lead to positive change on the water as well as to a better understanding of fishermen’s motivations for engaging with new technology,’ she said.