Promising future for Shetland fisheries heralded by survey of juvenile stocks

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NAFC's research vessel 'Atlantia II' in Scalloway.

The future looks promising for fisheries around Shetland after record numbers of small haddock and increases in small cod and whiting populations were identified in an independent survey by the NAFC Marine Centre UHI.

More than 50 tows were made in inshore waters by NAFC’s research vessel Atlantia II this summer to assess the abundance of juvenile fish from key commercial fish stocks.

The Centre has been surveying the abundances of fish species in the waters within 12 nautical miles of Shetland and in water depths ranging from 20 to 150 metres annually since 2011. A small-mesh net is used so that juvenile fish can be caught and sampled.

The most notable result of the 2018 survey was the large numbers of small (9-18 cm, 2018 year-class) haddock that were present. Numbers were much higher than have been recorded previously in the eight years that the survey has been carried out.

Dr Shaun Fraser, who coordinated the survey, said: “This is good news, as there is the potential for a strong recruitment into the fishery over the next year or two, once the haddock have grown to a marketable size."

Populations of small cod and whiting were also higher than in 2017 and lemon sole showed an increase.

Dr Fraser added: “There are a number of benefits from the survey that the Centre has undertaken annually since 2011.

“Firstly, as we are sampling small fish (which are not retained in commercial gear) we are getting an early indication of which stocks are doing well locally and likely to give increased catches in future years.

“Secondly, we are able to achieve the quick turnaround from surveying in August and September to reporting in November, which is important when results are significant.

“Additionally, this survey contributes to the increasingly valuable time-series from 2011 which is showing interesting trends for a number of species.”

Simon Collins, executive officer of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association, said: “These results are invaluable in providing an independent and scientifically credible picture of the abundance of fish in the waters around Shetland.

“It is notable that the Centre’s findings of abundances of juvenile cod, haddock and whiting come at a time when we are seeing record landings of whitefish in Shetland, and we hope that they herald further increases in landings in the future.”


The full survey report is available at: .


For further information please contact Dr Shaun Fraser (, 01595 772000).