Shetland fishermen ban landing of berried lobsters

The Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO) is bringing in Scotland’s first ban on landing egg-bearing lobsters in a conservation move driven by local creel men.

The new regulation outlaws the practice of boats keeping berried lobsters. Preventing their removal will help protect the spawning stock needed for a sustainable fishery.

Lobsters are considered reasonably plentiful in Shetland waters with around 30,000 lobsters landed annually in recent years – four times as many as in 2005, which saw the smallest catch this century.

SSMO inshore coordinator John Robertson said: “This ban is seen by many fishermen as a positive way they can boost stocks in the absence of a lobster hatchery in Shetland. It is going to hit their income from creel fishing significantly in the short term but hopefully it’s a sacrifice that will reap rewards for them, and the buyers, in years to come.

“It was the fishermen who called for the ban and they backed it in a vote conducted last year by the SSMO. Marine Scotland supports the change which the SSMO is able to impose under its own regulatory powers.”

A voluntary ban was introduced from 1st August ahead of the measure becoming mandatory from 20th September. Some Shetland fishermen chose to return berried lobsters to the sea anyway as a good fisheries practice, cutting a v-notch in their tail which makes them illegal to land under Scots law. In England, landing berried lobsters is already outlawed.

Breaching the SSMO ban could see a shellfish licence holder suspended from fishing for anything up to eight weeks. The trade in live lobsters is monitored by officers from Marine Scotland Compliance who check catches on boats or when shellfish is being sold for live export from Shetland.

The SSMO exercises powers devolved from the Scottish Government to manage sustainable shellfish fisheries within the six-mile zone around Shetland, restricting licences to 106 mainly small boats. This keeps out large industrial-scale fishing fleets which operate elsewhere in Scottish waters.

The SSMO seeks to prevent overfishing and to promote policies which protect sensitive seabed habitats. It works in partnership with UHI Shetland on research and stock assessments, largely funded by Shetland Islands Council.