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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


Report reveals collapse of Clyde fish stocks due to trawling

Fish Legal has welcomed the publication by the Scottish Government of its Clyde Ecosystem Review. The report paints a grim picture of Firth of Clyde, which is no longer capable of supporting a commercial fin fishery as a result of decades of heavy exploitation by the trawl fleet. The Firth of Clyde is Britain’s largest inland sea stretching from the Mull of Kintyre in Argyll to Corsewall point in Dumfries and Galloway and covering an area of over 3,600 square kilometres that includes the Kyles of Bute and Lochs Fyne, Striven and Long.

The Clyde used to support a healthy herring and demersal fishery both of which progressively collapsed in the 1970s and 1980s. The Government report indicates that the decision to open up the Clyde to trawling in the early 1960s was decisive in radically altering the ecosystem from one which contained a number of different commercial species of harvestable size to the current situation where 90% of the fish population is below minimum landing size and most of that is comprised of juvenile whiting.

Prawn trawling and scallop dredging are the fisheries of last resort on the Clyde and the report indicates that the by-catch from the prawn trawlers may be responsible for the absence of larger and older fish.

Sea angling is a long established leisure activity in the Clyde and the area once had a reputation of being one of the best sea angling destinations in the UK. The area once held major competitions including the Scottish Open Shore, the European Boat Cod Festival and the Saltcoats Sea Angling Competition. In their prime in the 1970s, these competitions attracted up to 1300 entrants and visiting anglers enjoyed unparalleled sport.

As far back as the late 1980s a Scottish Tourist Board report concluded that fish stocks were declining as a result of trawling and that this was already causing a decline in recreational sea angling. The advice offered by the report was not met with any policy response and as a result many more sea angling dependent jobs were lost. The angling charter fleet has now gone and angler numbers are much reduced.

The Sustainable Inshore Fishery Trust (SIFT), which was co-founded by Fish Legal in 2011, is preparing plans to for a sustainable creel only or ‘static’ fishery within the Firth of Clyde. By banning destructive mobile fishing gears from key inshore areas it is hoped that the conditions will be created to allow the fish populations to recover.

Robert Younger of Fish Legal and SIFT said: “The publication of this report is very positive because now the Scottish Government is publicly admitting for the first time that there is a serious problem. Our inshore fisheries are publicly owned and the clear public interest is in taking measures to promote recovery. Fish Legal and SIFT look forward to working with Marine Scotland to help them to do this.”

Martin James Fishing