Inshore creelers petition for 3-mile trawler ban

COMMERCIAL fishing in the Clyde estuary is on the verge of extinction according to an alarming report just published by scientists.

The study blames dredging and bottom trawling combined with ineffectual fisheries management by successive governments for precipitating what they call an “ecological meltdown.”

Clyde trawling
Overfishing blamed for Clyde ecology 'meltdown'

Co-written by the eminent marine biologist and conservationist Professor Callum Roberts of York University, it says the Firth of Clyde “is approaching the endpoint of overfishing, the point where nothing remains that is worth catching.”

Once revered for its prodigious catches of herring, cod, whiting, saithe and haddock, even current langoustine fishing in the the Firth, says the report, is “highly risky” with signs of high rates of parasite attacks.

Professor Roberts and co-author Ruth Thurstan, a York PhD researcher warn: “The region now faces possible irreversible losses of biodiversity, fisheries productivity and other important ecosystem services provided by species whose ecological roles have disappeared as their populations have collapsed.”

Professor Callum Roberts
Prof. Roberts: Clyde nearing endpoint . . .

The report comes as a group of commercial fishery interests and community groups launches a petition calling for the restoration of the three-mile ban on trawling within the Clyde estuary.

Scottish Creelers and Divers (SCAD), Ayrshire and Clyde Static Gear Fishermen’s Association ( ACSGFA), the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) and several community groups want to see the inshore fishing limit, first established in 1889 but lifted under intense pressure from commercial interests in 1984, restored.

The York scientists examined the history of Clyde fishing over 200 years and studied in detail official catch statistics to build one of the most comprehensive analyses of fishing activity undertaken in recent years.

They say that intensive bottom trawling for langoustines with fine mesh nets will prevent the recovery of other species and argue that “this once diverse and highly productive environment will only be restored if trawl closures or other protected areas are re-introduced.”

The influence of Roberts, whose book The Unnatural History of the Sea, won worldwide acclaim, is evident in the report’s dire warning:

The Firth of Clyde represents at a small scale a process that is occurring ocean-wide today, and its experience serves as a warning to others.”

Reaction to the findings from the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has been swift. Bertie Armstrong, chief executive is already on record saying the report is “lightweight sensationalism” and provides no timescale for its predictions.

The Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network ( SSACN) records the report without comment, but draws attention to a feature in the Dunoon Observer examining the work of a local inshore creeler who highlights the unacceptable facets of dredging.

The launch of a three-mile ban petition indicates a split in the working of the Scottish Government’s Clyde Inshore Fisheries Group (IFG) where SCAD is a key member.

It was one of the first IFGs set up last year to represent commercial fishing and community interests, and to to help steer the industry towards “strategic national goals such as sustainable stocks, a healthy marine environment and a profitable fishing sector that supports strong coastal communities,” as the government puts it.

But the 3-mile ban petition, just published, indicates the desperation now being felt in some areas of the commercial sector.

The petition is attracting widespread positive comment on sea angling bulletin boards. It calls on environment minster Richard Lochhead, to prohibit all methods of mobile, bottom trawling and dredging within three miles of the Clyde shoreline “due to the poor ecological status” of the estuary.

However, any petition, no matter how large, is unlikely to have much impact on Lochhead and the current executive with Holyrood elections looming next spring.

7 Responses

  • Graham Dunsmore

    Sadly, this doesn’t surprise me. I can remember when I lived in Gourock back in the 80’s, counting upwards of five trawlers visible off Gourock alone regularly trawling.
    We used to get great catches of cod. Within a few years of inshore trawling starting – virtually no cod left.
    And they tried to get us to believe it wasn’t the inshore fishing! Who are they trying to kid! Absolutely no thought to future stocks it would seem..

  • Colin Thomas

    The Clyde Estuary has been systematically stripped of life by trawling, the fish don’t stand a chance. Why is it that no,one in authority can see it? The Estuary needs to be closed to commercial fishing permanently. My fear is that it may be too late.

  • As a diver I have seen the sea bed after the boats have been through, all the sea life ripped up leaving nothing for the fish to feed on…. a desert in strips that are now joined up leaving nothing. This has to be stopped

  • R Walker

    I wrote to Alex Salmond on this very subject only 6 months ago asking him why he was allowing this systematic destruction of the Clyde estuary which to my mind is a national disgrace! unsurprisingly I received no response… but what can you expect from the Former MP for Banff and Buchan, who was totally dependent on the support of commercial fishing interests from that area… Its all very shallow, its all politics!

  • malcolm mccallum

    I fished the clyde at Greenock on my boat about a quarter mile of shore on three separate 6 hour trips using various methods catching nothing but a few mackerel, but if I fish about 50 yards of shore I catch lots of small Pollock is this because further out the river there is no cover or food for larger fish due to the trawlers

  • Ronald

    Here is the text of an email I just sent to the Scottish government environment minister. A google search will give you the generic address for the current minister and I urge you to add your penny’s worth.

    Dear Ms Cunningham,

    I have just inherited a small flat in Kilchattan Bay on the Isle of Bute. I was just wondering to myself whether the fish had returned. One of my first hits on a Google search was this depressing piece:

    I urge you to also read the comments from the public which follow.

    Up until about 1968 when I was 10 years old we could go out about 400 yards from the shore and all six of us in the boat would catch perhaps three or four fish each in an hour. We despised cod, mackerel and whiting and conger eels and kept only the haddock and the occasional prized flounder. There were so many fish in the water that once a small white fish, which was about to be hauled into the boat, was taken by a dog fish, which is a type of small shark. My mother then had a bit more of a struggle than she was expecting.

    By the time I was 14 or 15 years old you could fish all day and catch nothing. I was therefore very surprised to find that it was only in 2010 that the fisheries were ‘supposed’ to be on the edge of extinction. As far as I can remember this happened in about 1973.

    I also remember the concept of ‘maximum carrying capacity’ from my O-level biology. It seems like insanity not to operate a fishery at its maximum carrying capacity. It is hard to think about a sufficiently extreme analogy to illustrate the point: I suppose it is like the reverse of using a sledge hammer to crack a nut.

    The commercial fishermen should be ashamed of themselves. Presumably they went to school like the rest of us. They must be too drunk and/or stupid to know what they are doing. I’m betting it’s stupid But joking aside, this is clearly a simple tragedy of the commons situation, which needs a politician with a bit of spine and biological knowledge to tackle. The concept you need to ram home is ‘maximum carrying capacity.’ That’s why Iceland went to war with us, and it’s why it is hypocritical of us to whinge about the EU’s common agricultural policy: we just want to get rid of the Spanish trawlers so that we can strip the bottom clean ourselves.

    Iceland is paying off their banking debts with cod. Follow their lead… maximum carrying capacity should be your mantra.

    • malky mccallum

      I think that from a fisherman’s perspective the three mile trawling limit should be reinforced before the lower clyde becomes a watery desert, my children will never be able to enjoy fishing the lower Clyde for pleasure. I read a report on the lower Clyde that said no one fishes the shore but this is because of the lack of fish. If you visit the Greenock shore during mackerel season and see people standing shoulder to shoulder fishing then you could see the potential for recreational fishing

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