UHI Shetland Fisheries Scientists Report a Productive Year in 2023

In the year 2023, the Fisheries Team within UHI Shetland’s Marine Sciences Department made an extensive effort to collect vital data supporting the local seafood industry. The data collected are invaluable for ensuring the long-term sustainability of Shetland’s important local fisheries

Throughout the year, a total of 108,460 fish, and 18,708 shellfish were measured, representing 66 identified species. Otoliths, the ear stones used to age fish, were also taken from 4,263 fish.

One significant focus of the research was the shellfish data collection program. A total of 12,871 scallops were measured and aged at factories in Scalloway and Brae. Sampling on local fishing boats and at the newly re-opened factory in Ronas Voe allowed staff to measure a total of 3,140 velvet crabs and 1,219 brown crabs. 1,478 lobsters have also been sampled. These measurements are critical in assessing the state of local shellfish stocks and providing essential management advice to the Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO).

The Fisheries Team also had a busy year conducting a variety of surveys and sampling programmes. The annual Shetland Inshore Fish Survey, aboard the research vessel Atlantia II, measured over 10,000 fish, providing vital data on relative abundance and population structure that can be compared to results from previous years. For the second year, the team completed a fish survey around Fair Isle to improve the knowledge in the Fair Isle DR MPA. Our fish market sampling covered 36 trips, where 17,393 fish were measured and 2,345 otoliths taken.

As part of the Pelagic co-sampling programme, which is undertaken in close collaboration between UHI Shetland, the Scottish pelagic industry, and the Marine Directorate of Scottish government, we processed a total of 5,850 fish and 1,918 otoliths from the mackerel, blue whiting, and herring fisheries. The information gathered through these sampling programmes is used by the Marine Directorate of the Scottish Government, together with similar information from other parts of the country, to contribute to the assessment and management of commercial fish stocks.

In addition to ongoing support to industry through data collection and policy advice, 2023 also saw the launching of many new projects such as our Sandeel Survey; Flapper skate tagging study; Ling project and running of gear trials for SmarTrawl, a new net adaptation for fishing trawlers to enhance species selectivity and reduce bycatch.

As UHI Shetland looks ahead, the commitment to maintaining the current level of data collection in 2024 remains strong, and the collaboration with the Shetland seafood industry is set to continue. The Marine Sciences department look forward to a new year of fieldwork, research and contributing to the sustainable management of our marine ecosystem.