Scottish Seine Fishing Lives On

Scottish Seine Fishing Gear

An illustration of the main components of Scottish seine trawling gear and how they are deployed in the water.

Steve Fitz first learned the sustainable Scottish seine fishing method in 1975. Originally from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Fitz settled down in Half Moon Bay, California, where he eventually purchased his first Scottish seine gear. Seventeen years later, Steve is the owner and captain of a very successful fishing operation—the only Scottish seiner in the entire West Coast trawling fleet.

Half Moon Bay fisherman Steve Fitz has built a nice business and a reputation to match as the only fisherman on the West Coast to use Scottish seine gear, equipment developed in Scotland in the 1920s.

Scottish seine is the most environmentally friendly flatfish-harvesting method used in the West Coast trawl industry, particularly when compared with the more widespread traditional bottom trawling, which results in high bycatch and greater impacts on seafloor habitats.

For 17 years, Fitz has provided the San Francisco Bay Area with high-quality sand dabs and other flatfish, developing a following among local restaurateurs and consumers. But as he prepares to retire, Fitz has partnered with The Nature Conservancy to preserve and spread the use of this environmentally sensitive fishing method.

What Is Scottish Seine Fishing?

Lacking heavy steel trawl doors or steel cables of any sort, as are found on traditional trawl nets, Scottish seine equipment is “more environmentally benign,” as Fitz describes it. Lightweight, the gear is only used on smooth, sandy bottoms and is not used on rocks.

Its lighter composition and slow, gentle retrieval method result in drastically less bottom degradation than traditional trawling. These differences, and the associated lower impact to bottom habitat, were the reasons that Scottish seine gear was granted an exemption from federal trawl closure areas in California in 2005.

Responsible Retirement

As is typical with well-established commercial fishermen, Fitz planned to finance his retirement with the sale of his primary assets: his Scottish seine fishing business, his federal fishing permit, and his vessel and equipment.

Fitz could have sold his permit and equipment to a traditional trawler, with its associated detrimental environmental impacts, but fortunately he worked with the Conservancy, who purchased his equipment, permit and vessel to help preserve the use of this innovative gear and to explore more sustainable ways to harvest fish.

By selling his permit and agreeing to a license-back arrangement, Fitz will transition his Scottish seine fishing operation to his nephew and co-captain, Stevie Fitz, whom he has mentored over the last 15 years. Captain Fitz can retire knowing that his unique and eco-friendly fishing operation will continue.

Protecting the Future of Our Oceans

This agreement is patterned on conservation easements, a tool used by The Nature Conservancy for more than four decades to protect working landscapes in California. The Conservancy hopes to take these same principles of good resource stewardship that have been used on land and apply them to the oceans.

With the acquisition of Steve Fitz’s Scottish seine operation, the Conservancy is helping to preserve the most advanced and sustainable flatfish-harvesting technique, which will benefit the entire West Coast groundfish industry.