29th September '23

Dr Steven Mackinson

“We’re shifting towards greater transparency. There’s been more momentum and progress in the last five years than ever before.”

Location: Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire


Job: Chief Scientist, Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association

Steve is a bridge between science and industry. With over 20 years dedicated to participatory fisheries research, he is committed to fostering collaboration between fishermen and the scientific community.

“I bring science to industry, and I bring industry to science,” Steve explained. The science to industry part is communicating scientific outcomes and their relevance to the pelagic sector. The industry to science part is about facilitating fishermen’s contribution to the data systems that provide the evidence-base for sustainable management.

“A key part of my role has been to lead development of a scientific programme where industry provides data into the scientific system,” he said. Through extensive sampling at sea and in factories, boats and processors share information to enhance stock assessments.

This industry-led sampling programme began in 2018 in partnership with scientists from University of Highlands and Islands Shetland and Marine Scotland and has now essentially replaced the previous government one.

“These kind of initiatives are taking place elsewhere too. There are now numerous examples where those in the fishing industry have become pro-active in collecting and delivering data that informs fish stock assessments that then feed into the advice on their catches – fishermen are genuinely involved in the science now,” Steve remarked.

Steve is encouraged by the generational shift towards participatory governance and greater transparency. “There’s been more momentum and progress in the last five years than ever before,” he said. Steve remains focused on demonstrating results rather than dwelling on past distrust.

His proudest accomplishment has been realising this collaborative sampling programme. “It’s not always been plain sailing, but we’re there,” Steve acknowledged. He believes data streams from boats will only continue to strengthen the scientific basis for sustainable fisheries management.

While misconceptions linger on both sides, Steve sees more scientists working for industry associations. He says this professionalisation of engagement with science is becoming essential as fishermen need that expertise.

Steve studied ecology, water resource management and fisheries science across three universities. His PhD research on herring led him back now to serve herring fishermen. Though the road to alignment hasn’t always been smooth, Steve is paddling ahead with optimism. He knows that for fishermen, sustainability means generational legacy. Ultimately, science and industry share the goal of healthy seas for the future.

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