THOUSANDS of crabs and lobsters are to be tagged as part of a pioneering research project in Orkney to ensure stocks remain high.
The four-year shellfish scheme is aimed at helping the island’s creel fishery in achieving recognition for its sustainable practices – while also assisting with the siting of offshore windfarms.
Creel fishing, which uses basket-type method, has been praised by green groups having little impact on the environment.
Local boats are also to be fitted with GPS to provide improved mapping of the seabed.
The project will help supplies remain sustainable while also examining how fishermen and the wave energy industry can work together.
Crabs and lobsters in the freezing, clean seas surrounding Orkney are renowned worldwide for their quality.
Stewart Crichton from the Orkney Fishermen’s Society Ltd said: “The key driver from the fishing industry side is the need to demonstrate to our customers and end consumers that we are conducting our fishery harvest strategy in a manner which is conducive to the long term health of the fishery.
“The emerging marine energy sector has a need for good quality primary data on the inshore fisheries in the Pentland Firth and Orkney water, by combining the needs of the two sectors in one piece of research we are able to achieve synergies and deliver greater value for money.
“We’re delighted to be involved in this innovative and ground breaking research project.”
The study is being conducted by the Crown Estate, along with Marine Scotland, Orkney Sustainable Fisheries and supermarket chain Marks and Spencer.
WWF is also joining the collaborative effort to support sustainable development in Scotland.
It is to be undertaken by local fishing fleets and marine researchers, under the guidance of scientists from Heriot-Watt Orkney Campus.
As well as monitoring stock levels, the information will prove valuable to developers of offshore energy schemes, helping them avoid sensitive sites.
Lang Banks, Director of WWF Scotland, said: “This is a really exciting project that could deliver for the people of Orkney a double win of a profitable, sustainable fishery as well as clean, green marine power industry.
“We’re right behind the efforts of all those involved in trying to develop a sustainable fishery and their vision to explore what synergies might be achievable with a quickly developing renewable sector.
“This is WWF’s first project on Orkney’s brown crab fisheries and we’re delighted to be working alongside the Orkney Fishermen’s Society and M&S to protect the marine environment and improve the sustainability of all fisheries.
“Alongside energy saving measures, marine renewables will have a critical role to play in helping Scotland reduce climate emissions.
“We believe that through careful planning and initiatives like the one on Orkney, we can harness Scotland’s wave and tidal energy to help cut our climate emissions, while safeguarding the nation’s tremendous marine environment.”
Hannah Macintyre Aquaculture and Fisheries Sourcing Technologist from Marks & Spencer said: “We’re passionate about sustainable fishing at M&S and have been working with our supplier of Orkney crab for many years so it is fantastic to have the opportunity to work alongside Orkney Fishermen’s Society and WWF on such an exciting project.
“Orkney crab are creel caught, a highly sustainable method of fishing with low environmental impact and little to no by catch and the fishermen themselves are dedicated to further improving the sustainability of their fishery.
“The tidal flow between the Atlantic and North Sea makes for superb quality crab - just what we’re looking for - and it’s this tidal exchange that also makes Orkney an ideal spot for marine renewables.
“Our customers love the hand-picked white crab meat, really valuing the Orkney provenance, and this project means they can continue enjoying Orkney crab long into the future.”
Orkney Sustainable Fisheries is a not-for-profit organisation established by the local fishing industry to run the local lobster hatchery and take forward various initiatives relating to the long-term healthy future of the fishery.
The organisation employs a full-time marine science research officer who is supervised by Heriot-Watt University’s Orkney campus.
The current project follows a successful two-year European Fisheries Fund project which looked at crab movements and discards from the fishery.