Creel Buoy Entanglements

Many recreational sailors have reported entanglement or near misses with creel buoys that are badly marked or have floating trailing ropes. This is something that the RYA has been concerned about for many years. In RYA Scotland we have been talking to fishermen about the nature of the problem. Fishermen have also come to grief on badly marked buoys and the Inshore Fisheries Groups are well aware of the problem.

Know what to expect
Creels are set for three types of shellfish, lobsters (over rocky reefs), prawns (over mud) and crabs (often close inshore). Sometimes fleets of creels are moved between deeper water and shallower water due to weekly closure of the deeper water to mobile fishing. This can result in rope floating to the surface. In some places creels are well marked and easy to spot. In others unregistered creelers fail to conform to best practice guidelines. The way that creels are set and marked varies from place to place. In some locations buoys have a pick-up buoy attached. A fleet of up to about 80 creels is lowered to the seabed with a rope going from one or both ends to a creel buoy that is picked up to haul in the creels and also acts as a marker to other fishers. Some creels are set in surprisingly deep water.

Legal background

Marking of creels is a devolved matter. In June 2020 the Scottish parliament passed the Marking of Creels (Scotland) Act. This requires creels set by registered fishermen to be marked by marker buoys specifically designed for the purpose and for the boat's Port Letter and Number (PLN) to be clearly marked. This regulation outlaws the use of objects such as plastic milk bottles and netted footballs as buoys. RYA Scotland has been supportive of this regulation and encouraged its passing, for example through its membership of the parliamentary Cross Party Group on Leisure Boating and Marine Tourism.

Other initiatives
There is an initiative to prevent basking sharks and marine mammals becoming entangled with the ropes that run from the end creels to the buoy. The code of practice specifies weighted lines, which would also have the benefit of minimising the risk of entanglement by recreational craft. There has also been a recent trial using acoustically released buoys that lie on the bottom till they are activated. Such a system is already in use for scientific apparatus that lies on the seabed. However, while welcome, it is thought that the fishers who adopt these practices are likely to be the ones who already conform to existing best practice guidelines.

Stay alert
It is important that a good watch is kept for creel buoys and that they are given a wide berth of at least five metres. This is particularly important in areas of strong tidal flows where even large creel buoys can be forced below the surface. Any that are badly marked or have a length of trailing floating rope attached should be reported using the RYA scheme (see the related document in the side panel). If in an area managed by a Statutory Harbour Authority they should also be alerted.

Dr G Russell
RYA Scotland Planning and Environment Officer
Last updated 12th October 2020

Related pages:

RYA Fishing gear entanglements

Scottish Government Creel Marking Guidance

The Marking of Creels (Scotland) Order 2020