Independent Fisheries Science Support Scheme (IFSSS)

As testimony of its active commitment to science, SFF Services ran an observer scheme through various phases leading to the current Independent Fisheries Science Support Scheme (IFSSS). The various phases of the scheme had been funded through the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) and European Fisheries Fund (EFF), and the Scottish Government.

Compared to the previous schemes the IFSSS represents an enhanced version incorporating an onshore module. It Is managed by Marine Environmental Solutions (a subsidiary of SFF Services) and is still funded by the Scottish Government through Marine Fund Scotland.

IFSSS, and prior projects, have allowed government and industry to gain and maintain fishing opportunities such as those generated by the Scottish Conservation Credits Scheme and the data collected on commercial vessels are fed into the stock assessment process.


Through managed deployment of a pool of offshore, inshore, and onshore fisheries observers and a project and data coordinator, the IFSSS aims to:

  • Provide enhanced data for stock assessments as part of the joint Marine Scotland Science (MSS)/SFF Observer Scheme.

  • Support industry led initiatives in testing selective methods of fishing when necessary.

  • Co-operate with MSS in the collection of biological data on the industry/science demersal trawling anglerfish (Lophius spp.) survey and on various in year surveys run on the Scotia RV.

  • Provide practical advice and support for science/industry projects which require direct observations at sea on commercial vessels.

  • Provide observer coverage and sampling for the industry herring survey in ICES Division 6a.

  • Co-operate with MSS in the collection of biological data coming from the innovative co-sampling programme; and,

  • Maintain flexibility to provide support for any industry/science related projects requiring strong data backup.

MSS/SFF Joint Observer Sampling Scheme

The MSS/SFF Joint Observer Sampling Scheme, overseen by Marine Scotland Science and supported by the Fisheries Management and Conservation Group, commenced in 2013 with the aim of:

  • Collecting, storing, and analysing a single, definitive source of Scottish unwanted catch data.

  • Providing statistically robust estimates of target, by-catch and market data for reporting (i.e.: ICES/European Commission).

  • Reducing the variance associated with unwanted catch estimates.

  • Providing greater coverage with a larger quantity of vessels sampled year or year.

  • Improving stakeholders’ confidence through effective and efficient use of available resources and data.

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MSS/SFF Joint Observer Sampling Scheme

The MSS/SFF On-board Observer Scheme became fully operational in 2014 with the data now utilised in stock assessments. This contribution was acknowledged in ICES Advice on Fishing Opportunities Catch and Effort (2017), and the revised National Program for the Data Collection Framework includes reference to data collected under the SFF/MSS scheme.

Improved coverage contributes to a more robust dataset, which can be used in several ways within the evolving ICES framework for assessing data deficient stocks. During the COVID-19 pandemic (2020-2021) the observer scheme was adapted to cope with a brand-new protocol for safeguarding the observers and fishing boat crews, which included the testing of the observers before each trip and the use of specifically selected PPE. These extra safety measures allowed the observers to carry out their duties, except for when periods of stricter restrictions (level 4) were enforced.

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