I like fish

Jack Morrison provides a divers personal viewpoint of the state of Scotland’s West coast marine environment and some of the commercial fishing practices which have had an impact on it.

It’s Sunday evening and I’ve just had a lovely piece of haddock for dinner. That may seem pretty mundane but that statement is at the heart of what I’m about to write about. I like fish, I like eating fish and I would like to think I’ll be able to eat fish for the rest of my life, my children’s life and my grand-children’s life.

I support and encourage any measures taken to protect and encourage the health of the sea because I’m selfish and want to eat fish whenever the fancy takes me. I’m also a diver and some of the most memorable moments for me were being surrounded by a shoal of fish, something that hasn’t happened to me in this country for a long time.

So that’s where I’m coming from, I want to see healthy seas teeming with life because I selfishly want to see and eat the produce of the sea and I need fishermen to catch them for me.

My first dive was in the Clyde at red rocks just outside Largs, my logbook reads, “Saw dogfish, flounder, plaice, dragonets, scallops, queenies, different kinds of crabs and a shoal of coalfish. One of the other divers caught a lobster.”  I must go back and see what there is now.

The Clyde fishery includes the inner and outer Firth, the sea lochs which connect with it, the Kyles of Bute, Inchmarnock Water, Kilbrannan Sound and the ‘Great Plateau’, an expanse of shallower sea bed lying to the south of Arran between Kintyre and the Ayrshire coast.

Right up into the 1990’s, whitefish such as herring and cod were the mainstay of the fishing industry in Scotland including the Clyde. The inshore grounds of the East coast and in the Clyde Sea Area saw the rise of steam trawlers which led to friction with line fishermen. This conflict led to trawling being banned within 3 miles of the coast in 1889 and in some semi-enclosed bodies of water, including the Clyde, at around the same time. Under pressure from the Clyde fishermen this ban was lifted in 1984.

The Clyde is a classic example of how not to manage a fishery. It has been declining since the end of the war; with improved methods of fishing we have seen species after species fished out. Herring, cod and whiting were all gone so by 2003, the only commercial species left were scallops and nephrops (prawns).

In 2005 the Scottish Executive published a review of inshore fishery management, which set up a new structure of Inshore Fisheries Management Groups (IFGs) that give fishermen a central role in the management of their fishery. The same fishermen that had run the fishery down to the extent there were only two commercially viable species left.

It is important at this stage to note there are two types of fishing in the Clyde, mobile and static. Scallops are collected using scallop dredgers that are dragged along the seabed. While Prawns are captured using a bottom trawl again dragged along the seabed. Prawns are almost always dead and scallops broken; it is indiscriminate and produces a by-catch that is discarded.

Ironically the by-catch of prawn trawling is often juvenile white fish. Any diver who has had the misfortune to dive a site that has been dredged especially by a scallop dredge will know how devastating this method is. They will also know just how unsustainable and destructive it is.

Static fishing relies on creels set in long lines and is a method of fishing that is centuries old. It is discriminate in that the prawns are alive when landed and the fisherman can then release any prawns that have eggs thereby guaranteeing survival of the species.

The alternative method of collecting scallops is to dive for them, hand dived scallops are sold at a premium and again is sustainable because divers leave undisturbed undersize scallops.

Just like in 1889 when there was tension between line fishermen and trawlers, there is tension between mobile and static fishermen today. I have seen video of a prawn trawler deliberately towing through a line of creels in Loch Fyne; sadly this was not an isolated incident.

The Clyde Inshore Fisheries Management Group is the body that advises the Scottish Executive on management of the fishery it is made up mainly of representatives of the trawling sector. It is obviously not in these fisherman’s interests to see a return of white fish to the Clyde or the need to protect biodiversity.

Fishermen would have us believe the fishery belongs to them as they make their living from it and therefore we, the general public, should have no say in how it’s managed.

There is a far greater group of people who rely on the sea for their livelihoods; creelers, anglers, charter boats, hoteliers, restaurateurs, divers and tourists.

We all have a right to decide how our seas are managed.

Jack membership of the Scottish Sub Aqua Club (ScotSAC), the governing body for recreational scuba diving in Scotland, dates back to 1961;  he has served as Chairman and Editor of Scottish Diver and describes himself as hopelessly addicted.

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