Western Isles’ fishermen and processors are at the beginning of a project which they hope will sustain and boost the local fishing industry.
Following on from a recent success which saw rules relaxed to permit the landing squid - a group of fishermen are currently undertaking a trial which they hope will see landing dogfish permitted as a by-catch.
Ronnie Scott of Islander Shellfish, who has been pushing for a change in the legislation, explained: “What we achieved with the squid benefited not just the Western Isles but the whole of the West of Scotland and this will be similar if the trial is successful.
“This is something unique, and it is the Western Isles which is taking it forward.”
He continued: “Over a number of years dogfish have been prohibited to land in the UK but there is still a lot of them being caught, which is unavoidable.
“The dogfish for the last two or three years have been caught from between November and January, as a by-catch, and have had to be thrown back into the sea [mostly dead].
“This seems to be a total waste of good commercial fish that people want to buy.”
Mr Scott explained dogfish, also known as spurdog, is a species of shark, and therefore protected.
Sold as Huss and Rock salmon there is a large demand for the fish - but he made clear what they are pushing for is not targeted fishing of the species.
He continued: “In the Western Isles, in the North Minch and South Minch, at this time of year there seems to be an abundance of dogfish and these species are being protected and rightly so, but maybe over protected to the point where they have become a major predator to other stocks.
“They eat approximately one and a half times their body weight on a daily bases.
“When any species is protected it must not be over protected. We must strike the right balance.”
Mr Scott compared the situation with that of island Crofters and Greylag Geese.
“The conservationist for years have been protecting the geese,” he said, “and the geese have become overprotected and the crofters are suffering.
“This is the same thing, when you over protect a species it can be to the detriment of the others.”
The project, which will run until March 2015, involves four fishing boats, two based in Stornoway and two in Barra.
The dogfish will be examined by the Scottish Marine Institute in Oban.
The data collected will then be used to inform negotiations regarding the need to discard rather than land the species and provide information on where dogfish are being caught, how much is being caught and the size, sex and maturity of what is caught.
Funding of £43,000 for the trial came from the Fishing Industry Science Alliance supported by the Scottish Government.
Coordinator of the Spurdog/Dogfish Project, Cllr Donald Manford, said: “There seemed to be a conflict between Commission who said stocks were depleted and fishermen who find it hard not to catch them in their net when they are trying to avoid them.
“It seems to be clear the basis for them not reconsidering the ban was that insignificant information existed on the state of the stocks.”
He continued: “The way to find that solution collectively is to work together and develop trust between the EU Commission and the industry.
“I see the trial itself as a massive step in that direction. We need evidence in order to make that case.
“There is a long way to go but this has the possibility of being really, really important.”
Mr Scott continued: “This could mean fishermen will be able to have a sustainable fishery as a by-catch that will help improve wages.
“We must have all the proper people working together along with the conservationists and fishing communities right around Scotland.
“Shark Trust UK have been notified and are very interested in what we are doing and everyone involved have worked very hard to get it to this stage.”
The project will be run by Dr Clive Fox from the Scottish Marine Institute.
Donald Joseph Maclean of Barratlantic and Ronnie Scott from Islander Shellfish are involved in collecting the fish.
Cllr Donald Manford is the group coordinator. Iain MacSween, Chief Executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Organisation, Duncan MacInnes of the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association and Donald Morrison local Marine Scotland Fisheries Officer have also been involved.