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Howard highlights the heyday of Clyde fishing
Howard Wood, co-founder of COAST (Community of Arran Seabed Trust) was the guest speaker at the Arran Historical Society when he spoke to members about the history of fishing around Arran and in the Clyde
In 1725 the Clyde had vast stocks and varieties of fish. In the 1800s it was recorded that pods of 40 whales visited and fed on the shoals of fish. Herring fishing dominated the catch in the Clyde and around the UK in the 1800s to the 1900s.
The industry employed hundreds of thousands of people. The methods of manual fishing were seine, trammel, and drift nets, suited to different sizes of boats and crews with varying efficiency.
This generated ill-feeling between communities and a fisherman was shot dead in Loch Fyne in 1862. Steam powered larger vessels, nets, and beam trawls came into being. There were larger catches and the species caught increased. In 1889 Clyde fishermen persuaded the Fisheries Board (established in 1882) to ban bottom trawling in the Clyde as it was damaging the seabed.
The official records show from 1899 to 1940 the catch halved. Harbours were full of fishing boats, so many that you could walk from one side to the other. The drop in catches started in the 20th century. In the 1930s and ’40s there was a basking shark fishery based in Carradale. In the 1980s a
Girvan fisherman re-started hunting legally. Official catch limits of approximately 200 for research purposes was set but the true catch may be up to 800 a season.
In 1962 bottom trawls were allowed again to compensate for the decline. Initially this helped with a three-mile limit to reduce the destructive effects.
Before modern technology fishermen used experience and a ‘feeling wire’ to locate the shoals. The white fish catch had dropped but remained relatively stable until the efficiency of the new technology resulted in a collapse in the stocks.
Fishermen’s representatives, running out of options, persuaded the Government to open waters within the threemile limit using Newhaven scallop dredgers. The seabed was soon devoid of scallops and the side catch of nursery fish was fatal. The scallops also disappeared within a short time. Discard rates in the fishery were 1kg scallops to 9 kg by catch.
What’s left in the Clyde? 14 species are now ecologically extinct and 90 per cent of commercial catches in the Clyde today are prawns residing in the mud and caught individually in creels. 25,000 tonnes of discards are generated every year. The Clyde is now a fishery of last resort as the fish are being cast aside before they can mature.
The Clyde economy has declined. Through the ’70s and ’80s the Clyde supported vibrant recreational fishing festivals. These events attracted sponsors and played an important part in the coastal communities. Brodick had an annual festival and Lamlash boasted two per year. The first recorded fishing festival in Scotland took place on Arran in 1963.
The European Boat Cod Festival was held in the Firth of Clyde on three occasions between 1979 and 2000. Such events no longer exist. A 2009 Government report showed that sea angling at 1982 levels, could be worth £10 million of revenue to the Clyde economy and £2 million to Arran alone.
The next meeting of the Arran Historical Society will be its AGM on Monday January 20 in the Brodick Golf Club at 1.30pm. Any new members are welcome at this event and there will be a buffet and a film showing Arran in the past.