Observers were placed on pelagic vessels in the Scottish fisheries for mackerel (Scomber scombrus), herring (Clupea harengus), "maatje" herring (herring caught just before their first spawning) and argentines (Argentina silus) to monitor by-catch composition and discarding practices. A total of 67 days was spent at sea, 11 on the argentine fleet, 28 on the herring fleet, 12 on the "maatje" herring fleet and 16 on the mackerel fleet. The level of by-catch generally ranged from <1% to around 2.5% of the total catch. The argentine fishery took a significant proportion of blue whiting (Micromesistius poutassou) (approx. 10% of the overall catch) but this was landed and sold in the market. The greatest range of by-catch species was found in the argentine fishery, including 11 species of fish and one species of squid. Discarding rates in the fisheries varied, with herring and argentine fisheries showing no discards, the mackerel fishery a discard rate of around 4% and the "maatje" herring fishery a discard rate of around 11%. By-catches included small numbers of gannets (Morus bassanus) but no marine mammals. If the sampled trips were representative, results indicate that marine mammal by-catch events typically occur during less than one in 20 hauls in the fisheries studied. A larger scale study is needed to confirm this. Cetaceans were sighted in the vicinity of the fishing boats during 4% of observed fishing activities.