In­dus­tri­alised fish­ing can be reeled in us­ing creels

The Herald - - OPINION - BALLY CROFT Creel fish­er­man out of Kyleakin, Isle of Skye

THROUGH most of his­tory fish­er­men on the Scot­tish west coast used static gears such as lines, traps and nets to catch fish from the seem­ingly end­lessly abun­dant wa­ters. Al­though it was pos­si­ble to trawl (tow a net along the sea bed), trawl­ing was not favoured be­cause it was con­sid­ered by many fish­er­men to be de­struc­tive and led to dis­card­ing un­wanted fish. In­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion saw a boom in the de­mand for fish and the use of sail-trawl ves­sels in­creas­ing.

Due to trawls dam­ag­ing static gears and de­clines in fish stocks, the Fish­eries Board in 1889 leg­is­lated to pro­hibit trawl­ing within three miles of land. The three-mile limit was fur­ther bol­stered by clo­sures to trawl­ing in the firths of Clyde, Forth, Mo­ray and Lorne. The in­dus­tri­alised fleet tar­geted her­ring and ever more ef­fi­cient meth­ods were de­vel­oped to catch ever larger quan­ti­ties. En­gines were in­tro­duced, as were syn­thetic netts and me­chan­i­cal winches.

As the her­ring be­came scarce the fleet moved to trawl­ing for white­fish species, such as cod. This pro­duced a sig­nif­i­cant by-catch of nephrops (scampi) so, as the white­fish in turn suc­cumbed to the rav­ages of the in­dus­trial fish­ery, a tar­geted fish­ery for nephrops emerged.

The fleet was suf­fer­ing from over­ca­pac­ity and the grounds from over­fish­ing. So the in­dus­try lob­bied for the firths to be re­opened to trawl­ing and, in the 1960s, the outer closed ar­eas were re­opened.

The three-mile limit area soon be­came the fo­cus of the trawlers; they ar­gued the static-gear fleet within three miles was in­ef­fi­cient com­pared to the trawl sec­tor and bet­ter prof­its would arise if the three-mile limit were opened to the trawl­ing ves­sels.

This was dur­ing the Thatcher era and the Gov­ern­ment in 1984 opened the for­merly closed ar­eas to the trawlers. The re­sult was sadly pre­dictable and, by the early 1990s, all in­shore fish land­ings had de­clined to prac­ti­cally zero. In­tro­duc­tion of

There is an op­por­tu­nity to boost em­ploy­ment among fish­er­men and the value of catches from in­shore wa­ters

quotas in the 1990s via the EU fish­eries pol­icy and sub­stan­tial fleet de­com­mis­sion­ing did lit­tle to re­solve the is­sue. Sim­i­larly, the cod re­cov­ery plan failed to yield re­sults.

The Scot­tish Creel Fish­er­men’s Fed­er­a­tion (SCFF) has been look­ing at the po­ten­tial ben­e­fits of re­in­stat­ing the three-mile limit. It has con­cluded there is an op­por­tu­nity to boost em­ploy­ment among fish­er­men and the value of catches from in­shore wa­ters; and to do so with­out catch­ing more. This is a re­sult of the high value of static gear pro­duce when com­pared to the low value and high im­pacts as­so­ci­ated with trawl catches. There are some po­ten­tial prob­lems, how­ever.

The high value of the creel-caught nephrops is due to a niche mar­ket. Any tran­si­tion would have to be paced with cor­re­spond­ing in­creases in mar­ket ca­pac­ity.

An­other is­sue is the small trawlers that rely on the near-shore zone for their liveli­hood. Not all would be suitable to con­vert to creel ves­sels and the SCFF ar­gues that some com­pen­sa­tion and funded re­struc­tur­ing would be re­quired to en­sure there was no loss of jobs. The good news is if the SCFF is right; not only would there be a good chance of in­shore fish pop­u­la­tions and habi­tats re­cov­er­ing, there could also be an in­crease in fish­er­men’s jobs.

The SCFF has worked with com­mu­nity and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups to lobby for po­lit­i­cal sup­port in tack­ling the legacy of mis­man­age­ment. There is an ev­i­dence base and a pro­posed so­lu­tion. If we can muster the po­lit­i­cal will, we will have the op­por­tu­nity to turn round the legacy of in­dus­trial fish­eries and give fu­ture gen­er­a­tions some­thing they de­serve: to in­herit a re­cov­er­ing, if not a healthy, ma­rine ecosys­tem, at least within three miles of land.

Agenda is a col­umn for out­side con­trib­u­tors.

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