Fishermen have joined environmental activists in criticizing the “failure” of ministers to properly protect the Firth of Clyde and foster a regeneration program in a region that once was a jewel of the fishing industry in Scotland.
The Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation (SCFF) is angry that eight years after Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Minister of Fisheries, announced that the Clyde could “once again be a national asset,” “not a single practical measure” was taken to improve the ecosystem’s condition.
In a briefing, the Federation has presented its concerns and introduced a legal challenge to the “unlawful right to trawl” in the nearshore waters of Scotland. A petition for judicial review was lodged by the SCFF, which is likely to have a major effect on fishing rights in Scotland.
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The SNP government is accused of behaving illegally by listening to its industrial trawling cronies and ending a planned pilot project to ban trawling off the Isle of Skye in the Inner Sound, which it says could have given greater benefits to the economy and the marine environment of Scotland.
The aim of the pilot project was to test the environmental and economic benefits of developing ‘trawl-free’ fishing areas in coastal waters.
But rather than applying its own published thinking, the Scottish government has been accused of opposing it over the objections of trawlers.
Fishing was once a major enterprise in the Firth of Clyde, directly employing hundreds of people and thousands more in related jobs such as food packing, manufacturing and distribution. The good times, though, didn’t last.
The destruction of habitat and biodiversity led to decades of overfishing, poor management and scraping of the seabed with “destructive” techniques such as dredging.
In 2012, Marine Scotland’s Clyde Ecosystem Review (CER) concluded that past fishing had a “a major ecological impact” on the Firth. 90 percent of the fish were found to be smaller than the minimum landing size, while 72 percent belonged to a single species – whiting.
The analysis contrasted the Clyde with “utilized agricultural land in need of restoration.”
One reason blamed for preventing recovery was that the Clyde’s then 20 million pound crab fishing industry captured larger fish as bycatch – unwanted fish thrown back into the sea.
Scientific observer data from the government indicated that the trawlers “may be partly responsible for the current absence of older, larger fish in the Clyde.”
The crab fishing industry, which claims that it is to blame, has firmly denied this.
The study showed that while years of intense trawling have affected the Clyde, it still harbours large numbers of fish and shows some signs of recovery. The substantial historical and current contribution of hazardous substances from industrial and domestic waste, the study said, is the key component affecting the Clyde.
It added that the environment was altered, leading to the absence of many smaller fish, particularly juvenile whiting, and of larger predator species.
The report claimed that while there is no stable fish population in the Clyde ecosystem yet, it is still active and efficient and has the potential to be restored.
And it said that “it could be argued that the Clyde gives Scotland the opportunity to demonstrate leadership in terms of ecosystem restoration.”
Richard Lochhead answered by announcing that the government was now preparing to work with conservation groups, fishermen and local communities to agree on a “shared vision” for the future of Clyde fisheries.
This has contributed to the initiative Clyde 2020, which seeks to put together both scientific research and practical action to improve the marine environment of Clyde.
Yet SCFF, the Blue Marine Foundation’s environmental advocacy group Fish Legal and anti-overfishing charity, claims nothing has been done, and ministers ignored an effort to prepare for the Firth’s recovery.
Fish Legal said one of its “current cases” was the Firth of Clyde crisis, adding, “The Scottish government has set up an action program to restore it.”