The date today is 09-02-09

The Firth of Clyde


The need for long-term management of marine ecosystems

The past often holds the key to understanding the present problems of ecosystems and, therefore, perhaps the key to their recovery[i].

The history of fisheries management goes back a long way. Local regulatory boards existed in the harbours of France, Spain and England centuries ago in an attempt to protect resources, and many coastal communities over the world have long had traditional access rights established[ii]. However, present catch and landings statistics do not have such a lengthy history, and we have little evidence of how marine ecosystems used to be. The past conditions of an area are recalled as reflections by fishers, and a few descriptions perhaps recorded by chance, described collectively as ‘anecdotes’. Past information needs to be incorporated into present day fisheries management to gain a fuller understanding of the changes that have occurred over time in populations and exploitation patterns. However, this is rarely done.

Long-term studies are slowly becoming used to determine how marine ecosystems used to be, and what has caused these changes over time. Jeremy Jackson and colleagues used ecological, historical, archaeological and paleoecological records to describe long-term changes to several major marine ecosystems caused by human disturbance[iii]. John Pandolfi and co-workers also performed similar research into coral reef ecosystems, and found that substantial degradation had occurred before 1900[iv], something that would be missed by short-term datasets. The ‘Sea Around Us’ project is piecing together information to identify trends over time for the North Atlantic Ocean, in an attempt to establish data that can be used for future ecosystem based management1.

Traditional fisheries management has failed because we have not taken into account the effects of complex interactions between species, and the fact that fishing gear is rarely selective enough to capture just one target species[v]. The current emphasis is on ecosystem based management and the application of the precautionary approach2, but this is not being achieved quickly enough because of weak legislation, political stalemates and challenges to the quality of scientific advice[vi]. However, by looking at long-term changes in an ecosystem, the stark contrasts between the past and the present should throw into light the failings that have occurred and the desperate situation that many marine species now face.

This project reports on the Firth of Clyde. By building up a picture of this region and the changes that have come about, it is hoped that some sense can be made of the scale of transformation that has occurred.

The Firth of Clyde

The Firth of Clyde lies on the south-west coast of Scotland and is the most southerly fjord in the northern hemisphere[i]. Today the Clyde sea area is used for a range of activities including fishing, shipping and aquaculture, with a nuclear power station and oil terminal also situated on the Clyde[ii].

Historically, fishing has been the mainstay of the Firth of Clyde economy, with a growth in commercial fishing dating from medieval times[iii]. The herring fishery was of importance for hundreds of years, with Loch Fyne on the inner Clyde famous for its high quality herring[iv]. This fishery has since declined, and the focus has shifted towards Nephrops norvegicus, a crustacean that demands high prices on the continent and is popular as ‘scampi’ throughout the UK. Other fisheries for cod, hake, saithe and whiting have also been of importance within the Clyde area10.

The growth of human populations and increased movement to cities during the industrial era meant that pollution from sewage and industrial effluents drastically increased upriver of the Firth of Clyde, destroying the once productive salmon fishery[v]. Pollution problems were not properly addressed until the 1960s, after which environmental conditions began to slowly improve9.

The Firth of Clyde has been a focus for recreation for many years, with popular angling competitions taking place in the past. The Clyde boasts several National Scenic Areas whilst three European Special Protection Areas8 recognise and protect internationally important seabird and wader populations, which use the Clyde as a winter feeding site[vi].

Location of the Firth of Clyde: the limit of the Clyde sea area has traditionally been taken as a straight line from the Mull of Kintyre to Corsewall Point, as shown by the red line; the ‘blue box’ indicates Loch Fyne, traditionally a source of high quality herring, and the ‘red box’ shows the location of Ballantrae Banks, an important herring fishing ground. Source: Scottish Sustainable Marine Environment Initiative[vii].

Primary objectives and methods

In writing this report, I hope to build up a picture of the changes to the Firth of Clyde marine ecosystem over the past century, in an attempt to determine the causes and magnitude of change.

Historical information was taken from the Annual Reports of the Fishery Board for Scotland, Scottish Home Department Reports, Scottish Fisheries Bulletins and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland. Contemporary literature was accessed from relevant journal reports and Clyde organisations through the internet. A skipper’s past recollections were also published in a local paper, which was kindly sent to me by the narrator.

Contemporary datasets of disaggregated catches were requested from the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency (SFPA). Earlier information on landings has been taken from the Scottish Sea Fisheries Statistical Tables, published by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland.

Information regarding a past Clyde fishing festival was donated by the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST), with pictures also sent showing catches from the festival throughout the years. Questionnaires were carried out over the phone to fishers, to determine what changes they have seen over the course of their careers, and what they believe are the main causes of this.

<< Introduction ||Main Index ||The herring fishery pre-1950 >>

[i] COAST (2005). Community of Arran Seabed Trust. The Arran marine regeneration trial: development of a community-based marine protected area.

[ii] WWF (2003). Tangle of the Clyde: why we must reform the management of Scotland’s marine environment. Joint Marine Programme, WWF Scotland and Scottish Wildlife Trust.

[iii] Tivy, J (1986). The geography of the estuary and Firth of Clyde. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh B (Biological Sciences), 90: 7-23.

[iv] Boyd, J.M (1986). The environment of the estuary and Firth of Clyde – an introduction. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh B (Biological Sciences), 90: 1-5.

[v] Young, A (1885). Appendix G: The salmon rivers of Argyllshire: the Clyde. In, Boyd, T.J., Smith, J.G., Toms, G.H., Irvine, A.F., Maitland, J.R.G., Williamson, S., Ewart, J.C., Graham, J.M. and Grieve, J. J (1885). Third Annual Report of the Fishery Board for Scotland, being for the year 1884. Edinburgh, UK.

[vi] Thompson, D.B.A., Curtis, D.J. and Smyth, J.C (1986). Patterns of association between birds and invertebrates in the Clyde estuary. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh B (Biological Sciences), 90: 185-201.

[vii] Scottish Sustainable Marine Environment Initiative (2005). SSMEI Clyde Pilot Project Proposal – Technical Annex, Scottish Executive, Wildlife & Habitats Division, Edinburgh.

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