The date today is 09-02-09

Scientific interest pre-1950

The Fishery Board of Scotland was established in 1882 to provide statistics on the Scottish fisheries[i]. As part of this research, experimental trawl surveys were performed in different areas around the coast, and the Firth of Forth and Firth of Clyde were compared in 1887:

It was found that, compared with the protected waters on the East Coast, the number of fish [in the Clyde] was very small; the average per trawl being 109, while in the Forth it was nearly double. Round fish, such as cod and haddock, were much more numerous in the Forth, while the paucity of flat-fish in the Clyde was most marked: plaice were thirteen times and soles over four times more abundant in the Forth. These facts seem to support the contention of the fishermen that a great diminution in the productiveness of the fisheries has occurred. The number of beam trawlers, many of them large and well equipped, which have been working in the Clyde in recent years is considerable, a large proportion of them coming from England and the East Coast. But it appears that this area is now so exhausted that most of them have been forced to seek more remunerative working grounds elsewhere[ii].

In 1887, the Firth of Forth had had an area closed to trawling for some years, and scientists from the Fishery Board started to think that this may be necessary for the Firth of Clyde,

From the enquiries carried on by the Garland into the present condition of the fishing grounds in the Firth of Clyde, it is obvious that the abundance of fish, and especially of the valuable flat fish in that area, is very much less than in the restricted waters on the East Coast. The evidence given in the special Report previously referred to shows the probable reason of this. The Firth of Clyde is rich in those animal forms which constitute the principal food of fish, and is naturally well adapted to support multitudes of edible fishes, provided that wasteful of destructive modes of fishing are not persistently carried on. But, from the scientific evidence obtained, and from the testimony given on the spot, it appears that the numbers of these fish have very seriously diminished in recent years; and it is scarcely possible to escape the conviction that this has been mainly due to excessive trawling, for a large number of English and other trawlers have habitually swept the grounds during successive seasons, and now this mode of fishing has become comparatively unremunerative; the East Coast trawlers having returned to Granton[iii].

In consequence of the state of matters thus revealed, it is extremely desirable to proceed to regulate as soon as possible beam trawling in the Clyde area, partly by way of protecting the spawning grounds, and partly in order to prevent the complete destruction of flat-fish. To admit of any real good being done, it will be necessary of the Board to have complete control over all the Firth, and not merely the upper reaches of the Clyde. There is reason to believe that were a period of quiescence bestowed upon some of these waters, opportunity would be given for undisturbed increase, especially of the smaller fish; and this would ultimately largely add to the yield, not only in the waters immediately protected, but in those which are contiguous. It is a noteworthy circumstance that recently an increase has occurred in the number of the smaller fish landed by line fishermen on the East Coast, especially from inshore waters, and this may be considered as an indication of more favourable conditions for natural reproduction36.

As a result of the interviews conducted in 1887, and the extensive trawl surveys performed, it became unlawful to trawl within three miles of the low-water mark anywhere in Scotland in 1889. However, a bye-law was granted at the request of fishers from the Clyde district, where small sailing vessels less than eight tonnes were still able to trawl within the three-mile limit[iv]. In 1889 an area within the Firth of Clyde comprised of 600 square miles was also closed to trawling, in a straight line from the Mull of Kintyre, Argyllshire, to Corsewall Point, Wigtownshire, and extending over part of the outer Firth of Clyde[v].

Towards the end of the 19th century, the importance of the Firth of Clyde as a spawning area for many species of fish became known to fishery scientists[vi]. The closed area also exhibited a gradual overall increase in the abundance of fish, with flatfish responding the most strongly[vii]. These experiments were performed using demersal trawls at various stations throughout the Firth of Clyde41. Fishing methods were improving in efficiency, but also increasing the number of juvenile fish taken, many of which ended up thrown over the side of the boat or used as manure[viii].

Declines were reported from other countries bordering the North Sea, with the same pattern everywhere; a decrease in fish but improved catching technology as steam vessels became faster[ix], and an expansion in the fish trade[x]. Although it had become clear that trawling would supersede all other forms of fishing for whitefish[xi], the expansion of other techniques was also causing declines, as J.C. Ewart and colleagues reported in 1888,

The result appears to be a drain upon the supply of fish from the inshore waters sufficient, even without trawling, to cause diminution25.

It had been made clear that the coastal areas were no longer inexhaustible, and resources were in danger of becoming greatly diminished unless action was taken and regulations enforced[xii].

Visiting east coast fishing boats in the Firth of Clyde to catch herring, c. 1888. By the end of the 19th century boats had become decked and larger than these skiffs, enabling them to carry greater quantities of fish. Source: Martin, A (2002). Herring fishermen of Kintyre and Ayrshire. House of Lochar, Isle of Colonsay, UK14.

 

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[i] Smith, T.D (2002). A history of fisheries and their science and management. Chapter 4 in, Hart, P.J.B. and Reynolds, J.D (eds). Handbook of fish biology and fisheries, Blackwell.

[ii] Ewart, J.C., Maitland, J.R.G., Boyd, W. and Smith, N.A (1888). The influence of trawling. In, Boyd, T.J., Smith, J.G., Thoms, G.H., Irvine, A.F., Maitland, J.R.G., Ewart, J.C., Johnston, J., Boyd, W. and Smith,W.A (1888). Sixth Annual Report of the Fishery Board for Scotland, being for the year 1887. Edinburgh, UK.

[iii] Ewart, J.C. and Maitland, J.R.G (1888). Report on the trawling experiments of the Garland and field statistics of the East Coast fisheries. In, Boyd, T.J., Smith, J.G., Thoms, G.H., Irvine, A.F., Maitland, J.R.G., Ewart, J.C., Johnston, J., Boyd, W. and Smith,W.A (1888). Sixth Annual Report of the Fishery Board for Scotland, being for the year 1887. Edinburgh, UK.

[iv] Boyd, T.J., Smith, J.G., Thoms, G.H., Irvine, A.F., Maitland, J.R.G., Ewart, J.C., Johnston, J., Boyd, W. and Smith,W.A (1890). Eighth Annual Report of the Fishery Board for Scotland, being for the year 1889. Edinburgh, UK.

[v] Fulton, T.W (1895). Report on the trawling experiments of the Garland and on the statistics of the East Coast fisheries relating thereto. In, Sutherland, A., Smith, J.G., Thoms, G.H.M., M’Kechnie, D., M’Intosh, W.C., Smith, W.A., Boyd, W., Johnston, J. and Welch, J.R (1895). Thirteenth Annual Report of the Fishery Board for Scotland, being for the year 1894. Edinburgh, UK.

[vi] Kyle, H.M (1897). Report on the pelagic ova, larvae and young fishes procured by the Garland during the greater part of 1896. In, Sutherland, A., Crawford, D., Murray, J., Welch, J.R., Duguid, W.R., Jameson, A. and Robertson, W.C (1897). Fifteenth Annual Report of the Fishery Board for Scotland, being for the year 1896. Edinburgh, UK.

[vii] Fulton, T.W (1898). The influence of trawling. In, Sutherland, A., Crawford, D., Murray, J., Welch, J.R., Duguid, W.R., Jameson, A., Milloy, L. and Robertson, W.C (1898). Sixteenth Annual Report of the Fishery Board for Scotland, being for the year 1897. Edinburgh, UK.

[viii] Boyd, T.J., Smith, J.G., Thoms, G.H., Irvine, A.F., Maitland, J.R.G., Williamson, S., Ewart, J.C., Graham, J.M. and Grieve,J.J (1886). Fourth Annual Report of the Fishery Board for Scotland, being for the year 1885. Edinburgh, UK.

[ix] Esslemont, P., Smith, J.G., Thoms, G.H.M., M’Kechnie, D., M’Intosh, W.C., Smith, W.A., Johnston, J., Boyd, W. and Welch, J.R (1893). Eleventh Annual Report of the Fishery Board for Scotland, being for the year 1892. Edinburgh, UK.

[x] Sutherland, A., Crawford, D., Thompson, D.W., Welch, J.R., Duguid, W.R., Jameson, A., Milloy, L. and Robertson, W.C (1899). Appendix L: Reports from the different fishery districts for 1898. Seventeenth Annual Report of the Fishery Board for Scotland, being for the year 1898. Edinburgh, UK.

[xi] Wilson, P (1887). District Fishery Officer for Girvan. Appendix (A). In, Maitland, J.R.G. and Ewart, J.C (1888). Appendix A: Preliminary report and evidence taken by Sir James Maitland and Professor Ewart as to the influence of trawling and other modes of fishing in the Clyde estuary. In, Ewart, J.C., Maitland, J.R.G., Boyd, W. and Johnston, J (1888). Fishery Board for Scotland: report of a committee of the Fishery Board for Scotland as to the regulation of trawling and other modes of fishing in the Territorial Waters. Edinburgh, UK.

[xii] Boyd, T.J., Smith, J.G., Thoms, G.H., Maitland, J.R.G., Ewart, J.C., Johnston, J., Boyd, W. and Smith,W.A (1892). Tenth Annual Report of the Fishery Board for Scotland, being for the year 1891. Edinburgh, UK.

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