A delegation from the Scottish Fishermen’s Organisation (SFO) visited the Pacific North-
West area of the United States to learn how fisheries managers there have improved
sustainability by reducing unwanted catches.
Several directors and senior executives of the organisation, which is celebrating its 50th
anniversary this year, travelled to the states of Washington and Alaska in August.
The visit was planned to coincide with the Alaska pollock “B” season, which takes place from
early June to the end of October, depending on quota availability. The fishery is widely
regarded as one of the best managed in the world and uses a range of innovative
management tools to limit by-catch of species such as salmon and halibut.
The SFO first became aware of the tools used in North-West Pacific fisheries when it
undertook a collaborative pilot project on real time reporting with Dr Tara Marshall of the
University of Aberdeen and Eric Torgerson of Chordata LLC, a software developer based in
Alaska that has extensive experience developing systems for bycatch avoidance and
The project resulted in the development of BATmap (Bycatch Avoidance Tool with mapping),
a bespoke mobile phone app that enables participating skippers to share information on the
location of unwanted catches in real time. The system has been in operation on the west
coast of Scotland since 2019 and has been used to report unwanted catches of cod
(currently on a bycatch quota) and spurdog (prohibited until recently).
Scotland is currently undertaking a co-management approach to developing its future catch
policy and to assist in this process the SFO is keen to draw on experiences of management in
fisheries that have developed innovative approaches to sustainability. The aim of the trip
was to witness first-hand the co-management approach that has been adopted in recent
years in several important fisheries in the North-West Pacific, particularly in relation to
unwanted catch reduction.
The exchange was hosted by Dan Martin, Fleet Manager of Bering North LLC, and Karl
Haflinger, founder and owner of Sea State Inc, the company behind the innovative approach
to data sharing and by-catch management and regulation in the Alaska pollock fishery. Both
Dan and Karl have participated in previous knowledge exchanges to Scotland and
understand many of the challenges unique to Scottish fisheries. Tara Marshall and Eric
Torgerson also participated in the exchange.
The delegation spent two days in Seattle and met various industry and management
organisations associated with US North-West Pacific fisheries. A number of representatives
from The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), a United States federal agency within
the US Department of Commerce. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also
participated in the discussions.
The delegation also met Sea State Inc in Seattle to learn how real-time by-catch avoidance
works in North-West Pacific fisheries, particularly the Alaska pollock fishery.
Sea State acts as an information service provider, providing technical support for fishing
companies, and providing data to government to help with policy analyses. Data inputs for
the analyses and reports generated by Sea State originate from a variety of sources
including observers, catch accounting, electronic fish tickets, Elogs, VMS, AIS and
environmental data. The outputs provided by Sea State include the tracking of quota
uptake, real-time closures, weekly fishery summary reports, by-catch risk management,
data analyses, and the implementation of fishing co-op agreements.
The second half of the exchange comprised a visit to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to experience
the Alaska pollock fishery in operation and to meet boat captains, processors and managers
to discuss the practical implementation of real-time reporting. The delegation visited two
pollock processing plants in Dutch Harbor: Alyeska Seafoods Inc and Westwards Seafoods.
Members learned about the various products including frozen fillet and surimi blocks that
are processed from catches landed directly into the plants. The delegation also learned how
by-catch was accounted for and dealt with in the processing plants.
The delegation met three captains during the exchange: Tony Norg of the 34m Bering Rose,
Calyton Smith of the 40m Progress and Tim Cusick of the 102m catcher-processor
Each captain spoke of the move in recent years to sharing data and the importance data
plays in the management of the fishery. While data sharing may have been a challenging
concept when first introduced, the majority of operators now see the value of using data in
near real-time to help reduce unwanted catches. This sentiment was echoed in meetings
with Tim Cusick (fleet manager for Westward Fishing Company) and Colleen Anderson (coop
manager for Unalaska Fleet Cooperative) who further noted that full transparency of by-
catch levels across the fleet provides an added incentive to keep within the predefined
The trip was deemed an overwhelming success and the SFO intends to use the knowledge
gained to inform discussions with stakeholders and the Scottish Government as it looks to
develop an effective catch policy for Scotland in the coming months. It will also help inform
the further development of BATmap (https://info.batmap.co.uk/).
John Anderson, Chief Executive of the SFO, said: “We are extremely grateful to our hosts in
Seattle and Dutch harbour for what was an illuminating and highly valuable learning
journey. It is clear that the American North-West Pacific fisheries are light years ahead of us
both in terms of their co-management approach and in the use of technology and real-time
data to manage their mixed fisheries. Their overall management approach is something we
can aspire to and gives us much food for thought as we contemplate the Future of Fisheries
Management in Scotland and embark on the development of Fisheries Management Plans
Paul Macdonald of the SFO added: “We have been trialling real-time reporting using
BATmap in the whitefish fishery in Scotland and are already seeing the benefits of that in
terms of data sharing and improved knowledge of spatial and temporal distribution of
bycatch species. Seeing the significant progress Sea State and the industry have made in
managing and reducing unwanted catches in the Northwest Pacific has been hugely
beneficial and has provided useful insight that we can take back to consider and apply in our
Peter Lovie, owner and skipper of the whitefish trawler Endeavour V, said: “An important
part of a skipper’s job now is avoiding by-catch species to the best of his ability. I have used
BATmap for a few years and I am now seeing the benefits of data sharing which helps me
avoid catching these by-catch species such as cod and spurdog. While in Alaska it was really
interesting to learn how Sea State and the industry have worked closely together in
reducing by-catch species to a minimum and implementing RTCs when necessary. It was
also very interesting to hear firsthand from Alaskan skippers and managers regarding all the
changes they have made in recent years (data sharing, onboard cameras, by catch
avoidance) to achieve such a sustainable fishery.”
Dan Martin, Fleet Manager of Bering North LLC, stated: “As we all know, fisheries
management is extremely challenging and fluid. I believe an important component of
success in this endeavour is being able to provide fishermen and managers the tools and
regulatory flexibility to meet those challenges. It took time, trust and collaboration for real-
time reporting to become what it is today, but it has changed the face of by-catch
management in the Alaskan pollock fishery. I am proud to have had the opportunity to
share my experiences with the SFO and look forward to further exchanges.”
The SFO is grateful to the Fishmongers’ Company for providing funding through the
International Exchange Grant and to all the government and industry representatives. The
organisation is also appreciative of all the industry and government representatives in
Seattle and Alaska who took part in meetings and discussions over the course of the
The SFO was officially recognised as a Fish Producer Organisation in 1973, shortly after the
UK joined the European Economic Community (EEC). Producer Organisations (POs) were
established throughout Europe as part of an initiative to organise the market for fisheries
products within the EEC. A decade or so later, with the development of fish quotas from the
mid-eighties onwards, many UK POs also took on quota management responsibilities on
behalf of their members, a role that has evolved significantly over time.
The SFO has a proud history at the heart of the fishing industry in Scotland and 50 years on has 140 member
vessels participating in all the main Scottish fleet segments, which generated a collective
landed value of £182 million of fish and shellfish species in 2022, making it the largest PO in
the UK and one of the largest in Europe.