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Small changes to fishing gear could make a big difference to whales around Scotland, and we are supporting Scottish fishers to work out the best way to do it.

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Entanglement is the largest identified cause of death due to human activity for minke and humpback whales in Scottish waters, and WDC is part of a new collaborative project working together with Scottish fishers to investigate how to reduce this threat.

This project comes out of previous work by the fishing, NGO and research sectors, who worked together to form the Scottish Entanglement Alliance (SEA), 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.

A minke whale off the coast of Scotland
A minke whale off the coast of Scotland

Your donation will help us protect whales in Scotland and all over the world.

Fishers’ knowledge

The SEA project looked at creel fishing, which uses lines of pots joined together with rope on the seabed to catch langoustines (or prawns as they are known locally), crabs and lobsters. The project aimed to better understand how whales and other marine life can get entangled in creel fishing gear. During the SEA project, commercial creel fishers from all around the Scottish coast were interviewed, and their contribution and expertise were key to the success of the project.

Bally with creels
Creel fishers' insight is key to success

As a result of that project, we 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 those whales and sharks are caught in the groundline, the rope that links creels together in fleets on the seabed. As groundline is usually made from rope which floats, it can form arches in the water between the creels in which whales and sharks can get caught by their mouths, flippers or tails. Of the entangled individuals, 83% of the minke whales, 76% of the basking sharks and 50% of the humpback whales (where entanglement type was reported) were caught in these groundlines between creels.

Sinking solution

This key finding from the study led to a possible way forward in addressing this problem, and to this new project. If the groundline is made of rope which sinks rather than floats, it will lie on the seabed, and will not pose an entanglement risk to whales. But it has to be practical for fishers to use.

We have received funding from the Scottish Government’s Nature Restoration Fund, managed by NatureScot, and Jingle Jam 2021 to trial sinking groundline in Scottish creel fisheries, and to understand how it might be implemented in a way that’s practical for fishers and beneficial for the marine environment.

Project manager Susannah Calderan
Our project manager Susannah Calderan

Trials underway

Like the SEA project, this work is highly collaborative. I'm working with a group of creel fishers around the Skye area of Scotland’s west coast. They have agreed to swap the rope in their creel fleets for sinking rope, and test out how it handles, document any problems, and work together to find solutions.

 Sinking rope is now being distributed to the 15 fishers taking part in the trial, and they’ve already started swapping over the rope in their creel fleets and fishing with them. The project runs until March 2024, and we’ll update you on the project as it progresses. We are looking forward to a constructive collaboration that will benefit both whales and fishers.

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1 Comment

  1. Rachel Silkin on 16th February 2023 at 4:40 pm

    Absolutely brilliant! I hope it works well and that it is adopted worldwide.

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