June 1st marked the launch of a new research programme to better understand marine animal entanglements in Scottish waters. The first of its kind in Europe, the Scottish Entanglement Alliance (SEA) brings together fishing industry representatives, researchers and conservation charities to provide a co-ordinated, comprehensive engagement and monitoring programme to better understand the scale and impact of entanglements in our seas.
Entanglement in fishing gear is a global problem that poses a threat to marine animals and fishers wherever the two overlap. Here in Scotland our rich inshore waters provide world-class fishing grounds for creel and trawl fishermen. Prawn, lobster and crab are targeted year round by the inshore fishing fleet, which not only makes a significant contribution to the national economy but also forms the backbone of many small communities. These waters are also home to a diverse array of large marine animals including whales, dolphins and porpoise (collectively known as cetaceans), basking sharks and turtles. Unfortunately these animals sometimes become entangled in fishing gear, and the consequences of these interactions can have conservation, welfare and economic implications. Entanglements can impair an animal’s ability to breath, feed, swim and reproduce, and have been recognised as the main cause of death of minke whales in Scottish waters. Other species including orca, humpback and northern bottlenose whales have also died in our waters as a result of interactions with fishing gear. These incidents can be both distressing for those encountering them and potentially dangerous where live animals are involved. The financial cost to fishermen through damaged or lost gear can also be significant, particularly as many are already operating to tight financial margins.
SEA is a partnership between six organisations dedicated to promoting and protecting Scotland’s wildlife, heritage and sustainable marine industries. Funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), SEA will research the incidence and impacts of marine animal entanglements in Scottish waters. The organisations involved are the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation (SCFF), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS), Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT), and British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR).
By engaging directly with the Scottish inshore fishing community, SEA partners will work to establish if and how often fishermen and other marine users are encountering entanglements, what the economic and welfare impacts of these incidents are, and what they think the causes of and potential solutions could be. Gaining a better understanding of this problem will be accomplished by:
To achieve these aims SEA partners will deliver a number of research projects over the next two years, designed to encapsulate the causes and consequences of entanglements and provide a platform to begin exchanging ideas of potential mitigation strategies. These projects include an anonymous questionnaire which will be distributed to inshore fishermen to capture their knowledge and experiences of entanglements. Small workshops and training courses designed specifically for fishermen will also be delivered around the Scottish coast. These will provide opportunities for fishermen to learn how to document and report entanglements, contribute to data collection, and assist in disentanglement attempts. Outreach materials will also be made available including best practise and entanglement reporting guides for fishermen and other marine users, and an improved anonymous reporting system will be put in place.
Over the coming months the SEA project co-ordinator Ellie MacLennan will be travelling around the Scottish coast to meet and speak with fishermen to gather information about their own experiences and perceptions of marine animal entanglement, and offer opportunities for them to get involved in SEA research through interviews, workshops and training events. If you would be willing to meet with Ellie and contribute to this work, share your own experiences of entanglement, or would like to learn more about SEA, please contact her on:
The project partners realise that marine animals entanglement is a sensitive issue and guarantee that any information shared will be treated as strictly confidential.