Fishermen have slammed the Scottish Government’s ‘soul-destroying’ decision to introduce new cod stock protection measures in the Firth of Clyde.
The government is ending an exemption letting creel and scallop dredgers and langoustine trawlers use the area during the approaching spawn season.
For more than two decades, measures were in place to protect spawning cod in the Firth of Clyde, with the area being closed off for 11 weeks between 14 February and 30 April.
The Clyde Cod Box was supported by fishermen’s groups targeting net fishing of cod, but exempted low numbers of cod to be caught via static or mobile fishing on the grounds.
However, now all fishing will be banned during these 11 weeks.
The Clyde Fishermen’s Association criticised MSPs for making the decision without involving the fishing community to take part in the discussion.
“It is therefore incredibly demoralising and soul destroying to see such positive measures being turned against the sustainably minded fishermen who helped create them in the first place, and all without any meaningful involvement.”
The group said that the “total loss of income” would affect many small family boats for months, which is a burden to the fishing communities following Brexit and the pandemic.
The association argued it could lead to overfishing in smaller areas, due to the closures.
The Scottish Government claimed it would only have a “short-term” impact on local fishers and was “ultimately beneficial” for fishing, as stocks should better replenish.
But the Clyde fishermen responded that there has been little evidence showing that the exemptions have been working to help stock recover.
“Some families may sell up and relocate, families can’t survive for months with no income,” read a statement. “This will impact not only the fishing economy, but also the wider socio-economy of fishing villages, towns and their facilities such as shops and schools.”
It added: “A programme is already underway to develop separately nationally, so our question is why hijack this over 20 year-old process to deliver another outcome? We can’t believe this would be the decision of civil servants who actually understand the process, rather a political decision.
“It feels less than transparent, there certainly has been less engagement than may have been required if national process was followed for spawning ground identification.”
The Scottish Government said: “This change to the seasonal closure aligns with the commitments in the policy programme of the Bute House Agreement between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Greens and our shared aim to restore marine habitats in Scotland’s inshore waters.
“We believe that this measure will provide a higher chance of stock recovery and contribute to a more sustainable fishery in the West of Scotland in the medium-longer term.”
Scottish Greens environment spokesperson Mark Ruskell commented: “Fisheries protection must be led by science, and it’s clear that this decision is the right one if we are to recover cod populations and protect our environment.
“For too long fish stocks have been allowed to decline and destructive practices like trawling and dredging have been allowed to cause damage in an area that is supposedly closed during the spawning season for the benefit of cod conservation.”
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