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A project to stop whale entanglement in fishing gear has received a huge boost thanks to a recently awarded grant from NatureScot’s Nature Restoration Fund (NRF), and funding from Jingle Jam 2021 – the annual gaming fundraiser by Bristol-based Twitch content creators and long-term WDC supporters, The Yogscast.

The project builds on findings from the recent Scottish Entanglement Alliance (SEA) project, an initiative involving WDC, and aims to reduce the entanglement risk of Scottish creel (crab and prawn) fishing to minke whales. The new funding will mean this work will be able to continue and more whales can be saved.

By bringing together fishers,  and scientists once more, the project aims to develop ways to reduce the problem of entanglement.  Creel fishing involves linking many crab or prawn pots together into ‘fleets’ with ‘ground line’ ropes. The ground lines used to link creels are made from buoyant rope which floats in loops between creels, which can entangle whales and other marine creatures like basking sharks and turtles.

Entanglement in fishing gear is a global problem that poses a threat to whales, including in Scottish waters. With thousands of miles of associated rope in the water at any given time, whales can frequently become entangled, which then has longer term conservation, welfare and economic consequences.

Entanglements can impair a whale’s ability to breathe, feed, swim and reproduce. These incidents can also be distressing and potentially dangerous for those discovering them, and the financial cost to fishermen through damaged or lost gear can be significant.

Over 18 months, a sample of creel fishers and boats will trial replacing the buoyant ground lines with sinking lines, which remain close to the seabed. it is a simple, low-cost measure from which we would expect to see a significant long-term reduction in entanglements and, if these trials are successful, the use of sinking lines has the potential be rolled out through the Scottish creel fishing fleet.

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By George