A GROUND-BREAKING project is helping to reduce mammal, shark and turtle entanglement in creel fishing gear in Scottish waters.

NatureScot has published a report on the first phase of the Scottish Entanglement Alliance (SEA) project, the first of its kind in the UK.

It brings together commercial creel fishers, NatureScot, research scientists, and marine mammal conservation and rescue charities to better understand the scale and impacts of marine animal entanglement and to ensure any incidents are reported.

Entanglements in fishing gear and marine debris can have both welfare and conservation impacts on marine animals, causing injury, impairment and death. They are the largest identified cause of death due to human activity in minke and humpback whales in Scottish waters. Surveys found more than 22% of live minke whales observed on the west coast of Scotland showed evidence of previous entanglements.

Some 159 creel fishers were interviewed about their fishing practices and experience of entanglements. A total of 146 over a 10-year period were reported. Only a small number of these were previously known, showing entanglements are hugely under-reported. The interviews also revealed a wider range of species were involved than previously known.

Fishers also participated in training events and workshops to promote best practice, reduce entanglement risk, and safely disentangle large marine animals from fishing gear. This gave fishers the ability to call on each other and safely provide a rapid response to any entangled animal.

Dr Kirstie Dearing, NatureScot’s fisheries adviser said: “We all find it upsetting to see our majestic marine species in distress, so we’re really heartened by the strong commitment and willingness of the fishing industry to work towards practical, safe and sustainable solutions on the issue of entanglement.”

Bally Philp from the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation said: “We are proud to have taken part in this study. The project demonstrates when an alliance of government, industry, academics and conservation groups collaborate, solutions can be progressed to a degree that would otherwise be hard to achieve.”