Skip to content

Collaborating with Scotland’s creel fishers to reduce entanglement of minke whales, basking sharks and other marine species through gear modifications.

Background to the project

Around 28 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises live in or travel through the seas around Scotland. These waters are also important fishing grounds for the creel fishery, which catches crabs, lobsters and langoustines (known locally as prawns) in lines of pots on the seabed. The Scottish inshore fishing industry forms the backbone of many small coastal communities.

But, with thousands of miles of rope in the water, creel fishing in Scotland can pose a high risk of entanglement for minke whales, basking sharks and other marine species. Entanglement is the largest identified cause of death due to human activity for these species in Scottish seas.

We’re working with Scottish fishers to find out what changes can be made to fishing gear to reduce these entanglements and ensure it is practical for fishers to use.

Dive deeper

The story so far...

In 2018, Members of the fishing, NGO and research sectors formed the Scottish Entanglement Alliance (SEA), which was led by NatureScot, and supported by the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation, the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme, British Divers Marine Life Rescue, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust and us at Whale and Dolphin Conservation. It was funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. The project aimed to better understand how marine species like whales and basing sharks are getting caught in fishing gear and in what numbers. During the SEA project, commercial creel fishers from all around the Scottish coast were interviewed, and their contribution and expertise were key to its success.

As a result of that project, it was estimated that in Scottish waters approximately six humpback whales, 30 minke whales and 30 basking sharks become entangled in creel fishing ropes each year. A high proportion of these entangled whales and sharks became caught in the groundline, the rope that links creel pots together in fleets on the seabed. As groundline is usually made from rope which floats, it can form arches in the water between creels in which whales and sharks can get caught by their mouths, flippers or tails. Of those entangled, 83% of minke whales, 76% of basking sharks and 50% of humpback whales (where entanglement type was reported) were caught in groundlines between creels.

Humpback whale in creel rope
Around 6 humpback whales die in creel rope each year in Scotland. © East Lothian Ranger Service

What is the solution?

If the groundline is made of rope that sinks and lies on the seabed, rather than rope that floats in arches between creels, the entanglement risk will be greatly reduced.

There are possible issues with using sinking line rather than floating, such as the potential for snagging on the seabed, increased abrasion and wear, and cost, and so WDC’s project manager, Susannah Calderan, is working with a group of creel fishers around the Skye area of Scotland’s west coast to test it out. They have agreed to swap the rope in their fleets for sinking rope, and test out how it handles, document any problems, and work together to find solutions. These trials are all about understanding the practicalities of making this change, and trying to address any problems that the trial shows up. We’ll be monitoring using underwater video surveys and lab-testing rope strength and wear.

The project runs until March 2024, and we are looking forward to a constructive collaboration which will work for both whales and fishers.

Fishers taking part in the project
Nature Restoration Fund logo
Jingle Jam logo


This project has been funded by NatureScot through the Scottish Government’s Nature Restoration Fund and the Yogscast's Jingle Jam 2021 fundraiser. Thank you as well to all our supporters who donate to WDC’s work and share our posts.