Scottish Skippers Case Study - James Thores, Starlight Rays

The Vessel

The Starlight Rays is a whitefish trawler operating out of the port of Peterhead:

  • 24m long
  • Powered by 1000 hp engine
  • 5 years old (newest pair trawler in the fleet)
  • Built in Eyemouth
  • Fishing range 260 mile range
  • Fish up to a Force 9 gale
  • Is shortly due to undergo a major refit to produce state of the art food safe handling facilities.


  • Range 260 miles
  • Predominantly fish in the Norwegian sector, 2° east, 120 miles closest, out to 260 miles, depending on weather, fishing opportunities, time of year
  • Capable boat, can operate in gales – as long as crew safety isn’t compromised


  • Net manufactured by Caley net stores, approximately 200 feet in the ground gear, 4 fathoms high, working 120mm (measured by SFPA at 130mm)
  • Fishing with the largest mesh size in Europe for conservation – ensures the escape of any juvenile/immature fish
  • Very targeted fishery due to large mesh sizes, negligible bycatch
  • Years of experience, can avoid grounds where immature fish are abundant
  • “I want a future for my son who is coming behind me, I don’t want the sea wrecked for him, we are all committed to the long-term future of the sea”
  • Investment in boat, showed commitment to the future, invested at a time when no-one else was

The People


  • Has been a fishermen for over 30 years (straight from school)
  • He has been a skipper for 21 years – worked up as a deckhand, got own boat since 1986, now on 4th boat (upgraded each time).
  • Comes from a long generation of fishermen
  • James first went to sea when he was 12 years old with his grandfather James Strachan, onboard the original Starlight Rays.
  • Always been innovative, leader in drive to improve quality – James was the first skipper in Scotland to weigh fish at sea, and the Starlight Rays was the first vessel to become accredited to the Seafood Scotland Quality Vessel Scheme in 2001
  • Fishing for James is both a business and a way of life
  • He believes in the future of the industry for him and his sons, and has invested time, money and effort in ensuring he lands the best quality catch
  • 6 adults including an engineer and his eldest son Scott, who at 20 became one of the youngest people to pass his Mate’s Ticket (5 March 2007) and is now qualified to skipper the vessel on his own
  • Don’t fish round the clock, so no double crews, like to give the grounds a rest between trips
  • James and the crew will be featured on the second BBC1 series “Trawlermen”, which will be aired later in 2007

Fishing ops

  • Shoot the gear
  • Short tow times to ensure no degradation in quality
  • An hour to heave and shoot
  • Crew takes fish on-board, quality uppermost throughout, as soon as cod end opens, time critical (quality critical), work quickly and efficiently, gut and wash, then carefully pack in ice, stored – temperature critical. Ensures fish arrives at the quay in top condition.

No fish in the North Sea?

If this was the case James would not have invested in a new boat, encouraged his sons into the business, or planned a major investment to bring the vessel up to a new standard in terms of food safety. He does see a future.

  • Some stocks the highest for 30 years – haddock
  • Regulated in what you do, have to use large mesh sizes and fish within a strictly controlled quota, VMS (Vessel Monitoring System), regulated by days at sea.
  • When sea was over-fished, people didn’t worry so much about quality, now people act more responsibly – James sees quality not quantity is the key.
  • James also appreciates the need to demonstrate he is fishing responsibly and once the upgrade work on his vessel is complete will be going through the audit for the BSI Responsible Fishing Scheme.


Cod, coley, monks, halibut, haddock

M&J has joint venture with James in trying to get the quality product to the plate by shortening the supply-chain.

For further details, contact James by email -