The date today is 09-02-09

1950 to Present Day Pt1

By the 1950s, boats were built on the Clyde that were 50ft long and able to carry 20 tons of fish[i]. The seine net fishery for herring, or ring-netting, was the most important and valuable fishery in the Firth of Clyde20. Yet within a few years, herring catches within the Clyde were declining, and catches consisted mainly of juvenile fish[ii]. By 1962, there was such a lack of herring during the autumn that fishing was completely stopped[iii]. This led to quota restrictions being placed on herring catches in the Clyde in 1963 for the first time[iv].

Whilst herring fisheries began to be restricted, fisheries that had previously been small in comparison to herring were expanding and diversifying.

Scallops and queens

The Scottish fishery for scallops (Pecten maximus) started in the late 1930s, but remained a small and localised fishery for the next two decades. It was used to supplement fishers’ incomes during the winter months[v]. Fishing for scallops drastically increased as processing factories started to market frozen meats, and a year-round fishery developed from 1961. New markets on the continent led to further expansion into new fishing grounds outside of the Firth of Clyde and up the west coast of Scotland[vi].

Queenies (Aequipecten opercularis), which are smaller than scallops, had been used as bait since the 1880s, but were no longer harvested as line fishing declined in the 1920s63. They were often encountered in great abundance in the Firth of Clyde when dredging for scallops, and in 1966 a research vessel off the north coast of Arran caught more than 10,000 queens in two minutes, using only one 6ft dredge63. A directed fishery in the Clyde started in 1967 once processing factories made handling queens economical, with a market found in North America63.

The gear used to capture scallops is the dredge, which has a fixed toothed bar to dig the scallops out of the seabed. Queens in the Clyde are caught using an otter trawl which captures queens as they swim away from the approaching gear63.

Rise of Nephrops and demersal fisheries

A directed fishery for Nephrops prawns began in the 1950s and quickly increased in importance in the Clyde area and the rest of Scotland. Nephrops had become the most valuable species landed in Scotland by the 1970s, with the 1972 total Scottish catch valued at £3,854,754[vii]. Seine nets were used in the Clyde until a Byelaw came into effect in 1962 which allowed trawling for Nephrops within the 600 square miles that had been closed to trawlers since 1889[viii]. In the late 1970s a creel fishery developed in the Clyde, landing high quality Nephrops which were sold whole66. The increase in demersal prawn trawling also enhanced fish catches as any valuable species caught would be retained for market[ix]. Large specimens of cod, hake and saithe were also caught in great quantities in the 1970s by the recently invented mid-water pair trawl59.



Graphs of Nephrops landings in the Firth of Clyde zone as defined by DAFS, from 1952 to 1984. Landings are shown by seine net until 1961(a), with trawl landings shown from 1962(b). Seine nets were used in the Clyde until 1962, when trawling was once again permitted. A drastic increase in landings occurred in the early 1960s, with landings by trawlers continuing to rise until the 1980s. Source: Bailey, N., Howard, F.G. and Chapman, C.J (1986). Clyde Nephrops: biology and fisheries. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh Section B (Biological Sciences), 90: 501-51866.

Technological change

The advent of the echo-sounder made locating fish much easier. Traditional methods were still very much in use59, but as echo-sounders increased in accuracy, fishers abandoned these approaches, although it was felt by some that this may have caused a few chances to have been missed, as Matt Sloan, a former Clyde herring fisher recalled in 2001,

‘I’d be the first tae confess,’ he said, ‘that there wasnae the same attention paid by a man lyin on the bow once the sounder came into being, because if ye wir goin over them wi the sounder goin, ye wid see some indication underneath; but A’m quite certain there were occasions when herrin wir high up – perhaps sheddin off the boat – they might’ve been seen by this sparks in the water in wintertime. And yet if they wir sheddin off the boat, often an often ye wir goin along an ye wirnae seein anything underneath on the sounder at all’14.

During the 1960s, most of the Clyde fleet switched to full-time demersal trawling59. A combination of market forces that upped the price of Nephrops and the reduction in labour compared to seine netting, encouraged the switch59. As trawlers increased in power and adopted rock-hopper gear, they were able to trawl in grounds that had previously been out of reach to fishers due to the rocky nature of the seabed59.

Those that did stay on in the herring fishery started to use pair-trawls to catch fish. With this invention, whole shoals of herring no longer had to be located, instead, the mid-water trawl could be towed behind the boats and herring captured gradually59. By the 1970s seine netting for herring was in decline, with the last ring-net boat, the ‘Alliance’, built in 197414. Towing along the mid-water column also allowed many of the larger, supposedly demersal fish to be found59, and the increased speed that nets were dragged meant that fewer animals could out-swim the boats.

Lamlash Festival

In the past the Island of Arran boasted a popular recreational fishing industry, hosting two annual fishing festivals; the Lamlash Festival and the Brodick Festival. The Lamlash Festival was held over a weekend and attracted 150-200 anglers every year on average, and was at the height of its popularity in the 1960s when over 7 tonnes of fish were caught in 1967.

Tonnes of fish landed at the Lamlash Festival. Source: COAST.

Throughout the 1970s, catches began to fall. Whether the catches fell first and led to fewer people making the annual trip to the Arran coast or whether the festival simply fell out of favour is questionable, since data on the exact number of fishers attending the festival each year are not available. Neil McClean was the president of the Arran Sea Angling Association throughout the Lamlash festival years, and is also a highly successful international sea angler. He equates the fall in catches to the increase of trawling in the area and the destruction of fish habitats (Neil McClean, pers.comm.). Since the allowance of trawling back into the previously closed area of 600 square miles, the 3 mile coastal exclusion had also been increasingly illegally fished by some trawlers. In the late 1970s this limit was completely abolished, leaving all waters open to trawling59 and signalled the end of the angling competitions as catches fell (Neil McClean, pers. comm.).

In recent years it was recognised by members of the Arran community that the coastal areas around the island needed some sort of protection from fishing. The Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) was established to encourage support for the creation of a no-take zone in Lamlash Bay off the coast of Arran[x], the aims of which are to protect vulnerable habitats such as maerl beds and enhance local fish and shellfish populations. Surveys of the sublittoral zone were undertaken by local divers. These revealed important habitats such as maerl and sea grass beds, but also revealed damage caused by scallop dredging to these vulnerable communities7.

The decline of herring

The trend that had occurred in the Firth of Clyde herring fishery, of declining catches that had become dependent upon one strong year class, was repeated around the rest of Scotland. The Clyde came under quota for the first time in 1976, with a limit of 4000 tonnes of herring, as well as an established closed time between January to March to protect spawning stocks[xi]. Despite the quotas, landings continued to decline throughout Scotland, until the whole North Sea was closed to herring fishing in 1978. The separately managed Clyde area continued to supply herring, although their quota decreased, with only 2000 tonnes allowed by 1979[xii], [xiii].

Throughout the documented history of the herring fishery, large fluctuations had occurred in the past. But with the industrialisation of the fisheries the amount of spawning herring taken had become too great, and, coupled with weak recruitment, the herring stocks were driven to an all time low73. The recovery of these fish was slower than expected[xiv], and as they recovered, fishers needed to find another resource that was economically viable, as a DAFS report of 1978 noted:

Almost all the herring fleet is now capable of diverting to white fish and other pelagic, notably mackerel, fishing[xv].

Year Quota (tonnes) % Uptake

















Total allowable catch for herring in the Clyde area. As fishing for herring became more restricted, fishers had to adapt to catching new species, meaning that the quotas were not even filled. Source: Scottish sea fisheries statistics,


Landings of herring in the Firth of Clyde showing the gradual increase during the 19th and early 20th century. A peak of 42,000 tonnes was reached in 1932, followed by a rapid decline from 1950 onwards, until TACs were imposed in the late 1970s. By the turn of the century, these quotas were no longer filled. Source: Different sources of information were used to assemble the graph, including Fishery Board for Scotland Reports, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland and Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency.

During the period of decline, the composition of herring in the catches changed. Almost the entire basis for the historical herring fishery in the Clyde was the spawning herring on Ballantrae Bank, which had been important since at least the 15th century[xvi]. By the late 1960s and early 1970s very few spring spawners arrived on the Banks74. During this time, the proportion of herring spawning in the Clyde in the autumn increased, indicating a major change in the populations74.

Today, quotas are set at the low level of 1000 tonnes, reflecting the population decline of Clyde herring.


<< Changes 1900-1950 ||Main Index ||The decline of demersal fisheries >>

[i] McCrindle, H (2006). Cleaning the Clyde. Glasgow Naturalist 24: Part 4.

[ii] Scottish Home Department (1958). Report on the Fisheries of Scotland 1957. Edinburgh, UK.

[iii] Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland (1963). Fisheries of Scotland Report for 1962, Edinburgh, UK.

[iv] Scottish Fisheries Bulletin 21 (1964). Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland, Edinburgh, UK.

[v] Mason, J. and Fraser, D.I (1986). Shellfish fisheries in the Clyde sea area. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburth Section B (Biological Sciences), 90: 439-450.

[vi] Scottish Fisheries Bulletin 32 (1969). Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland, Edinburgh, UK.

[vii] Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland (1973). Fisheries of Scotland report for 1972. Edinburgh, UK.

[viii] Bailey, N., Howard, F.G. and Chapman, C.J (1986). Clyde Nephrops: biology and fisheries. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburth Section B (Biological Sciences), 90: 501-518.

[ix] Hislop, J.R.G (1986). The demersal fishery in the Clyde sea area. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburth Section B (Biological Sciences), 90: 423-437.


[xi]Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland (1977). Fisheries of Scotland report for 1976. Edinburgh, UK.

[xii] Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland (1979). Fisheries of Scotland report for 1978. Edinburgh, UK.

[xiii] Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland (1980). Fisheries of Scotland report for 1979. Edinburgh, UK.

[xiv] Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland (1981). Fisheries of Scotland report for 1980. Edinburgh, UK.

[xv] Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland (1978). Fisheries of Scotland report for 1977. Edinburgh, UK.

[xvi] Bailey, R.S., McKay, D.W., Morrison, J.A. and Walsh, M (1986). The biology and management of herring and other pelagic fish stocks in the Firth of Clyde. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburth Section B (Biological Sciences), 90: 407-422.

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