SHETLAND-based NAFC Marine Centre has just completed a jig fishing - automated handlining - pilot study, which is the result of almost two years' work.
The project investigated the practicalities of jig fishing in the coastal waters around Shetland and was undertaken in response to requests from the industry. The results of the study indicate that jig fishing has some commercial potential for inshore vessels, at least on a seasonal basis. Explaining what the study entailed, project officer Paul Macdonald said: "Jigging is a method of fishing using hooks with lures that are lifted up and down in the water causing movement, which attracts large fish. "The jigging machines are computerised so that, among other functions, a bite alarm can be set to sense a specified weight of fish being hooked, at which point the machine will automatically haul the catch. This clearly improves the efficiency of the fishing system and makes the whole process very streamlined and accurate." Paul Macdonald said the benefits of jig fishing in today's market, where environmental and sustainability issues are a priority, are many and include: reduced by-catch (you are less likely to catch fish that you are not targeting); and reduced discards (you should catch fewer undersized fish and any that are caught can be returned alive to the sea on most occasions). "You are effectively catching a quality fish straight from the sea, " he said. "There has certainly been renewed interest in jig fishing in recent years, mainly as a result of the continued pressure on the whitefish sector and its efforts to conserve stocks and reduce discards. "This method of fishing certainly helps to achieve both. It is also extremely beneficial in the face of increased fuel costs because you actually fish with your engine switched off. "Following the conclusion of the practical aspect of the study, which involved fishing all around Shetland, we have analysed the data and produced a report outlining the project findings, as well as providing detailed information on the fishery. "This report is available on request from the NAFC Marine Centre. It includes details of the catches (the most abundant species in the catch were lythe and saithe with small numbers of cod, ling and tusk also caught) and where the best fishing grounds are located. "We found catches to be consistently higher to the north of Shetland, particularly around offshore wrecks where fish tend to congregate. However it is here, too, that vessels will face open seas and exposed conditions which may mean that fishing will be restricted by the weather. "We would be delighted to provide this information to fishermen considering undertaking jig fishing. We hope that the pilot study will help make a transition to this kind of fishing easier, given that we have already worked through the obstacles that fishermen might otherwise encounter, had the project not taken place."