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boatsScotland had over 100 sea fishing charter boats operating on the west coast during the 1970’s, regularly held the European boat fishing championships and boasted regular fishing festivals attended by people from all over Europe.

As a direct result of the decline of stocks, there are less than two dozen charter boats left and the numbers are still falling.

Every boat afloat is thought to generate four jobs ashore, so somewhere around 400-500 jobs in the sea angling service industries – tackle shop, B & Bs, cafes, hoteliers etc will have gone as a result and probably a similar number for the decline in shore angling.

Charter boat fishing in Scotland is divided into three areas – the east coast boats concentrate on cod and ling from inshore rough ground and wrecks;  the west coast tends to have far more species and the fishing is more specialised, often targeting individual shark species like the tope, spurdog and common skate; and places such as Scrabster in the far North tends to have the best of both worlds with a 12 month cod fishery and a variety of other species, including porbeagle and spurdog.

What Scottish charter boats remain do their best to provide an excellent service but unfortunately the Scottish charter fleet is ageing and their number continues to reduce year upon year. As stocks continue to decline the sector does not have the confidence to to take on the financial burden of new purpose designed vessels, which cost around £300,000 each fully kitted out.

My Story – A personal contribution from Ian Burrett.

I started chartering from Luce Bay in south west Scotland in 1988.

Previously my fishing had been on the east coast targeting cod and as there was plenty of cod around in South West Scotland they became the focus for my business and I basically followed the tactics of the other two ‘Drummore’ charter boats and that was to fish long drifts. It didn’t seem to matter where you started or finished the drift, plenty of fish and species would come to the boat.

The fish weren’t huge, but each day would produce a regular supply of 5-6 lb codling; fishing with worm would provide plenty of plaice and dabs and each day would throw up a few surprises with thornbacks, brill, turbot, blonde rays and countless other species taking the baits meant for cod.

I fondly recall a session at anchor that produced 19 species, the first 9 fish aboard were all different species, sadly it will stay as a distant memory, the stocks have become so depleted.

Spurdog would enter Luce Bay in June and July. The size of the shoals were huge and I recall moving a few miles at a time to try and get away from the shoals so as to be able to target other species as when you caught one spurdog, a dozen others would follow it to the surface.

The spurdog were thinned out very quickly by commercial longliners and by 1994 they were considered locally extinct. It was another 10 years before we caught another one in the region and as a result of recent commercial restrictions we can now consider them a fair target once again.

The memory that sticks out most in my mind is that the two Drummore boats didn’t have either fish finders or navigators. They simply didn’t need them.

If I had an easterly wind then I would fish of Port Logan which at that time produced plenty of double figure cod with 17 and 18 pounders being common – all less than a mile from the launch site.

By the early nineties the cod stocks declined in both numbers and size and it became evident that I was going to have to concentrate on the other abundant species in the region and pollack and tope became the sought after species.

In the early days I encouraged anglers to take home pollack and I am ashamed to admit tons of pollack went down the motorway. After a couple of years I realised that we were killing our own grounds and the big doubles starting disappearing from our favourite marks.

Consequently I introduced a self imposed compulsory ‘catch and release’ approach for all anglers fishing from my boats. At the time this was considered by others to be attempting financial suicide, but the stocks and the number of anglers held up.

I really believe If I hadn’t made this move, we would be out of business by now.

It was the success of our “catch and release” policy which made me realise as far back as 1994 that the sea is just a big pond that can be managed just like any freshwater pond. That belief is still my driving force for my conservation work today.

Ian Burrett is the skipper of ‘Onyer Marks’  sea angling charters which operate out of the Mull of Galloway and have launch sites on both the east and west side of the Mull. Early in the year they head up to Oban for their annual Skate Hunt, and then head into Luce Bay and the Irish Sea for the rest of the year until October.

Ian is also the Vice Chair of SSACN.

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