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Advancing Sustainability: Scottish Fishermen’s Quest for Knowledge in the Pacific Northwest

January 6, 2023

The Scottish Fishermen’s Organisation (SFO) recently undertook a knowledge exchange initiative, sending a delegation to the Pacific Northwest in the United States. The primary objective was to understand and potentially adopt innovative strategies used by U.S. fisheries managers to minimize unwanted catches. The delegation visited Seattle, Washington and Dutch Harbor, Alaska in August 2023, coinciding with the Alaska pollock “B” season.

Widely recognized as one of the world’s best-managed fisheries, the Alaskan pollock fishery uses innovative management tools, including real-time reporting systems and rolling “hotspot” closures, for minimizing salmon bycatch. These management tools had already inspired the development of BATmap (Bycatch Avoidance Tool with mapping) in Scotland, a specialized mobile app facilitating skippers in sharing real-time information about the location of unwanted catches. BATmap has been operational on the west coast of Scotland since 2022, successfully reporting and managing unwanted catches of cod and spurdog. The SFO was keen to build on this success by identifying new tools which could be integrated into future versions of the app.

The knowledge exchange began with a delegation of Scottish fishermen travelling to the Pacific Northwest to learn from expertise that the region had to offer. In Seattle, the Scottish fishermen learned about innovative management approaches directly from the fishing industry and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). From sustainable harvesting methods to cutting-edge technology, the knowledge transfer was a two-way street, with both countries sharing insights and experiences.

The focus then shifted to Dutch Harbor where the delegation immersed themselves in the operational dynamics of the Alaska pollock fishery. On-site meetings with boat captains, processors, and fisheries managers shed light on the practical implementation of real-time reporting and the handling of bycatch in processing plants. The visit to processing plants such as Alyeska Seafoods Inc and Westwards Seafoods provided valuable insights into product processing and bycatch management.

Tony Norg of the Bering Rose, Calyton Smith of the Progress, and Tim Thomas of the Northern Jaeger emphasized the evolving culture of data sharing. While data sharing may have been a challenging concept when first introduced to the fishery, the majority of operators now see the value of using data in near real-time to help reduce unwanted catches. Tim Cusick (fleet manager for Westward Fishing Company) and Colleen Anderson (coop manager for Unalaska Fleet Cooperative) echoed this sentiment, emphasizing that transparent bycatch reporting across the fleet incentivizes adherence to predefined limits.

The knowledge gained from this enlightening trip is expected to shape discussions with stakeholders and the Scottish Government as the SFO contributes to developing an effective catch policy for Scotland in the coming months. Furthermore, it will contribute to the ongoing refinement of BATmap, reinforcing the industry’s commitment to sustainable fishing practices. John Anderson, Chief Executive of the SFO, acknowledged the journey as a crucial step in aligning Scotland’s fisheries management with global best practices saying: “We are extremely grateful to our hosts in Seattle and Dutch harbour for what was an illuminating and highly valuable learning journey. 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 fishing operations in 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 (FMPs).”