The date today is 09-02-09


The literature that details the fisheries in the Firth of Clyde from 1882 documents some profound changes throughout the years. Some of these changes, such as technological innovations, were adopted extremely quickly and had a major effect on fishers’ work. However, other biological changes that occurred were not noticed as quickly, yet still had a profound effect on the way people fished. The days when the herring was king are long gone, and Nephrops is now the most sought after animal in the Clyde.

The techniques used to capture herring had negative ecological effects, in that the natural abundance of fish was slowly reduced, and also that many juvenile fish were caught and destroyed. But the Nephrops fishery potentially has a far more damaging effect on habitats and the capture of non-target species. This fishery has so far been sustained, but in the last few years, the mixed demersal fishery that occurs whilst trawling for Nephrops has seen fewer numbers of species such as cod, whiting, haddock and flatfish. Many of these species spawn close to or within the Clyde, and except for the recently implemented closed area in the south Clyde between February and April for spawning cod, there is little to protect spawning stocks.

This project makes it clear that humans have been the major driving force in the transformation of the Clyde. Trawling and technological improvements, as well as political decisions to open up closed areas have left fish nowhere to hide, and long-term trends have documented devastating shifts and declines in marine biodiversity through human activities. Similar trends are being repeated all over the world, and the situation is desperate. Global biodiversity loss is increasing[i], and marine species that were once assumed to be widespread, abundant and inexhaustible are in danger of extinction[ii].

In the Firth of Clyde the members of COAST have been fighting for over 10 years to allow a small area around Arran to become no-take. Although they have succeeded in informing their community and others about the need to protect some areas from the effects of fishing, this no-take zone has not yet been approved. It was quite clear to Professor Ewart and Dr Fulton in the 1880s and 1890s that habitats and fish needed to be protected, long before the drastic declines seen today.

The Firth of Clyde needs to stop being managed for a few species, and start being managed as the complex ecosystem that it is, where it is recognised that people’s actions have ramifications that extend further than just the target animals. Marine species need to be protected before our baselines shift again, to an empty desert that people once claimed was able to produce 5-pound cod and the occasional herring.

Days gone by c. 1900. Source: Martin, A (2002). Herring fishermen of Kintyre and Ayrshire. House of Lochar, Isle of Colonsay, UK.


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[i] Sala, E. and Knowlton, N (2006). Global marine biodiversity trends. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 31: 93-122.

[ii] Roberts, C.M. and Hawkins, J.P (1999). Extinction risk in the sea. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 14: 241-246.

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