Representatives of the Scottish Fishermen’s Organisation (SFO) have visited the Pacific North West region of the United States to learn about its innovative co-management and bycatch avoidance techniques.

The SFO delegation travelled to Alaska and Washington state in August with the aim of witnessing first-hand the co-management approach that has been adopted in recent years in several important fisheries in the North West Pacific, particularly in relation to unwanted catch reduction.

The visit was planned to coincide with the Alaska pollock ‘B’ season, which runs from early June to the end of October, depending on quota availability. The fishery, which is widely regarded as one of the best managed in the world, uses a range of innovative management methods and tools to limit bycatch of other species including salmon and halibut.

With Scotland currently taking a co-management approach to developing its Future Catching Policy, the SFO says it is ‘keen to draw on experiences of management in fisheries that have developed innovative approaches to their sustainability’.

The exchange was hosted by Dan Martin, fleet manager of Bering North LLC, and Karl Haflinger, founder and owner of Sea State Inc – the company behind the innovative approach to data-sharing and bycatch management and regulation in the Alaska pollock fishery.

SFO delegates Paul Macdonald and Paul Fletcher onboard a vessel in Alaska.

The delegation began its trip in Seattle, meeting with industry and management organisations associated with North West Pacific fisheries. Representatives from the National Marine Fisheries Service – a federal agency within the US Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – also took part in discussions.

Whilst in Seattle, SFO representatives also met with Sea State Inc to learn about how real- time bycatch avoidance works in North West Pacific fisheries.

The company acts as an information service provider, providing technical support for fishing companies, and data to government to help with policy analyses. Data inputs for the analyses and reports generated by Sea State originate from a variety of sources including observers, catch accounting, electronic fish tickets, e-logs, VMS, AIS and environmental data.

The outputs provided by the company include the tracking of quota uptake, real-time closures, weekly fishery summary reports, bycatch risk management, data analyses, and the implementation of fishing co-op agreements.

As part of the trip, SFO representatives also visited Dutch Harbor in Alaska to witness the Alaska pollock fishery in operation, and to meet with representatives of the local industry to discuss the implementation of real-time reporting.

Whilst there, the delegation visited two pollock processing plants to learn about the various products, including frozen fillet and surimi blocks, which are processed from catches landed directly into the units, and how bycatch is accounted for and dealt with in the plants.

The delegation also met with three local skippers, Tony Norg of the 24m Bering Rose, Calyton Smith of the 40m Progress and Tim Thomas of the 102, catcher-processor Northern Jaeger, with each speaking of the move in recent years to sharing data.

The party from Scotland was told that while data-sharing may have been a challenging concept when first introduced, the majority of operators now see the value of using data in near real- time to help reduce unwanted catches.

The sentiment was echoed in meetings with local industry representatives, including Tim Cusick, fleet manager for Westward Fishing Company and Colleen Anderson, co-op manager for Unalaska Fleet Co-operative, who noted that ‘full transparency of bycatch levels across the fleet provides an added incentive to keep within the predefined limits’.

The SFO described the trip as ‘an overwhelming success’. SFO chief executive John Anderson said: “We are extremely grateful to our hosts in Seattle and Dutch Harbor for what was an illuminating and highly valuable learning journey.

A meeting in Alaska, where the SFO team heard from skippers and managers about how technology and real-time data sharing was being used to reduce bycatch.

“It is clear that the American North West Pacific fisheries are light years ahead of us both in terms of their co-management approach and in the use of technology and real-time data to manage their mixed fisheries.

“Their overall management approach is something we can aspire to, and gives us much food for thought as we contemplate the future of fisheries management in Scotland and embark on the development of Fisheries Management Plans.”

The SFO first became aware of the tools used in North West Pacific fisheries when it undertook a collaborative pilot project on real-time reporting with Dr Tara Marshall of the University of Aberdeen and Eric Torgerson of Chordata LLC, a software developer based in Alaska with extensive experience developing systems for bycatch avoidance and information sharing.

The project resulted in the development of BATmap (Bycatch Avoidance Tool with mapping) – a bespoke mobile phone app that enables skippers to share information on the location of unwanted catches in real time. The system has been in operation on the west coast of Scotland since 2019.

Peter Lovie, owner and skipper of the Endeavour V, said: “An important part of a skipper’s job now is avoiding bycatch species to the best of his ability. I have used BATmap for a few years, and I am now seeing the benefits of data sharing which helps me avoid catching these bycatch species such as cod and spurdog.

“While in Alaska it was really interesting to learn how Sea State and the industry have worked closely together in reducing bycatch species to a minimum and implementing real-time closures when necessary.

“It was also very interesting to hear first-hand from Alaskan skippers and managers regarding all the changes they have made in recent years – data sharing, onboard cameras, bycatch avoidance – to achieve such a sustainable fishery.”

Dan Martin, fleet manager of Bering North LLC, said: “As we all know, fisheries management is extremely challenging and fluid. I believe an important component of success in this endeavour is being able to provide fishermen and managers with the tools and regulatory flexibility to meet those challenges.

“It took time, trust and collaboration for real-time reporting to become what it is today, but it has changed the face of bycatch management in the Alaskan pollock fishery.

“I am proud to have had the opportunity to share my experiences with the SFO, and look forward to further exchanges.”

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

Sign up to Fishing News’ FREE e-newsletter here


Subscribe to Fishing News magazine today; never miss an issue and save 55%!