Scottish Government’s plans will “squeeze the life” from inshore fisheries

Scottish Government’s plans will “sacrifice cod stocks” and “squeeze the life” from inshore fisheries, say campaigners. A press release from the Our Seas Coalition. Featured image credit: Thinkstock.

Campaigners have slammed new Scottish Government plans that will allow trawlers to throw away fish at sea, further depleting fish stocks such as west coast cod.

The Scottish Government’s flagship ‘Future Catching Policy’ claims to be a world-leading plan, but members of Our Seas, a wide coalition of 131 coastal businesses, fishing associations, community and environmental groups from across Scotland say the proposals will further undermine the health of inshore fish populations. They argue that the Government’s continued failure to introduce urgent spatial management measures, as well as legalising the controversial practice of discarding fish at sea, will sanction overfishing of depleted stocks such as west coast cod and accelerate ongoing damage to inshore fish nursery grounds.

In the wake of Brexit, the Scottish Government developed a new vision for Scotland’s fisheries and promised a fisheries policy to “link stock management with responsive and proportionate technical and spatial measures” to deliver “a reduction in waste”. But the new plans explicitly legalise discarding, a practice banned across the fleet in 2019. Furthermore, the proposals contain no “spatial measures” to safeguard sustainable fishing, as promised.

The coalition, which supports the reinstatement of an inshore limit on bottom-trawling, describes the decline of inshore fish populations such as west coast cod as “a national disgrace” and point to the Clyde specifically as a “textbook example of how not to do fisheries management”. The coalition say that the continued wasteful catch of young, small whitefish from the Clyde’s prawn trawl fishery is suppressing population recovery.

According to the latest stock assessments, the International Council for Exploration of the Seas (ICES) estimates the spawning population of west coast cod to be at an all-time historical low, and advises a zero catch policy. However, because the juvenile cod are caught as bycatch in the trawl nets, the Scottish Government allocates a ‘bycatch quota’ against this scientific advice. For the past few years a law has been in place requiring that this “bycatch” of small fish be landed to port. However, the Scottish Government has now set out plans to remove these rules and allow juvenile, undersized fish – and in some cases adult marketable fish – to be discarded at sea.

The Our Seas coalition claims that the plans risk putting “the final nail in the coffin of the Clyde cod population and wider recovery of white fish stocks”.

The Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs committee recently heard that there are approximately 3.5 million cod in the Clyde, and yet two million of these fish are being caught every year by prawn trawlers that use bottom-trawl nets to target Nephrops (langoustine). Despite trawl industry claims that the fishery is ‘clean’ with a low bycatch rate, campaigners argue that the bycatch of cod, estimated by Government to be 100 tonnes, is suppressing the recovery of the wider cod stock.

Members of the Our Seas coalition are urging communities across Scotland to respond to the government consultation which closes on Tuesday 7th June.

Jenny Crockett of Community of Arran Seabed Trust said: “The decline of our fisheries has direct consequences for the health of our communities. If we look after our local marine environment, then it will look after us. For too long the wastefulness of trawler bycatch has suppressed any prospect of recovery of whitefish populations in the Clyde; these plans would enable that unsustainable pattern of fishing to continue. Now is the time for government to wake up to the biodiversity and climate crisis, rather than commit our seas to another decade of depletion.”

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The Our Seas coalition is a coalition of marine businesses, community groups, Scottish fishing associations, environmental and charitable organisations and marine recreational groups, raising awareness of the urgent need to protect our coastal seabed. Our members are listed here: