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.