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5 December, 2008

A NEW net design pioneered by an Orkney skipper could help fishermen conserve cod stocks while continuing to catch marketable fish.

Skipper of the 33 metre trawler Russa Taign, Tam Harcus, found that increasing the mesh size at the entrance to the trawl helped young cod escape before being pushed into the cod end.

Preliminary test results indicate that the amount of cod caught below the minimum landing size could be reduced by 61 per cent.

The result comes just ahead of crucial fish talks later this month in Brussels to decide upon quotas and other fisheries management measures for 2009.

Mr Harcus had found that whilst he was fishing alongside other vessels his boat would catch fewer small cod. He put this down to his nets being made from 160mm mesh throughout the main part of the net, as opposed to the other vessels that were using 120mm mesh.

He reasoned that by increasing the mesh size to 300mm at the entrance of the trawl, he would be able to further reduce his catches of small cod whilst still retaining other marketable species.

"I expected there to be a reduction in the cod catch with the new net, but not to the extent that we found in these trials.

“These are very encouraging results and I believe that this type of trawl could play a very important role in fish stock conservation,” he said.

The new net could help meet conservation targets set under the EU's cod recovery plan. The larger meshes in the net also offer less drag during towing, which could result in fuel cost savings.

Rory Campbell, science and environment policy officer of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, said the net could be an important tool to conserve stocks.

“While this gear will not be suitable for parts of the Scottish whitefish fleet such as those which fish mainly for roundfish such as haddock, cod and whiting, it should work quite successfully in mixed fisheries where fish such as monkfish and megrim are also being targeted.

“However, more work should be carried out in assessing the effectiveness of this net on smaller craft to ensure its effectiveness in this important segment of the fleet,” he said.

It is planned to carry out further trials next year to assess whether the new trawl will deliver the same results on smaller vessels.

Most recent update - Saturday, 20 December 2008 00:07
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