Proposals for a ‘regulating order’ to limit prawn and scallop fishing around the Clyde are likely to wipe out the whole of the ‘mobile’ fishing industry in the Firth.
That’s the grim prediction of Bute fisherman Colin McArthur, who has already decided that if the limits put forward by the Sustainable Inshore Fisheries Trust (SIFT) are accepted by government, he’ll walk away from the industry in which he has spent all his working life.
Colin, who has been a trawlerman for 26 years, following in the wake of his father and grandfather, told The Buteman he believes there is no need for the restrictions, which SIFT says are essential to bring back finfish to the Clyde, reduce the industry’s reliance on shellfish and bring life back to the sea bed.
“The regulating order, if it happens, will definitely finish me,” he said.
“I wouldn’t even bother to try and work with it.”
The order would ban trawling for prawns and scallops in Loch Striven, the Kyles and down the whole of Bute’s west coast - the areas Colin fishes most often - and would impose similar limits around the Cumbraes, along most of the Ayrshire coast, in almost all of Loch Fyne, off the north and south coasts of Arran and along the north-east of the Kintyre peninsula.
It would also ban all forms of commercial fishing for prawns and scallops in ten more zones around the Firth.
A deadline of January 18 has been set for responses to the SIFT proposals to be sent to Marine Scotland, the Scottish Government’s marine directorate.
“There’s no need for the regulating order,” Colin, one of the last remaining fishermen to be based at Rothesay harbour, told The Buteman.
“It’s like a huge brush has been picked up and a big red box painted on a chart.
“All prawn trawling takes place on soft, muddy ground. The gear trundles along the bottom, prawns feel the vibration and jump up, and the net passes under them. The whole thing takes place above the sea bed - we don’t dig into it.
“Most of the areas that are closed are prawn and scallop beds that have been fished for generations with no adverse effects. In fact, the International Commission for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES), which sets quotas every year, has recommended a 47 per cent increase in the Clyde prawn quota for 2016.
“The Loch Striven and Kyles areas are very important for my livelihood,” Colin continued, “especially in winter, because they’re so sheltered.
“Apart from there, the furthest north I’ll go is the coast off Innellan and the Gantocks [near Dunoon]. I’ll maybe go as far as the Cumbraes or Ardrossan on a good day.
“But fishermen in places like Tarbert, Carradale and Campbeltown are going to suffer really, really badly, and there’s still quite a big fleet on the Ayrshire coast as well.
“The proposals will wipe out mobile gear fishermen on the Clyde.”
The term ‘mobile gear’ refers to fishermen who, like Colin, trawl for fish using equipment attached to their boats. The other category of fishermen who will be affected, at least in part, by SIFT’s proposals are those who use ‘static gear’ - pots and creels left on the sea bed.
‘Static gear’ fishermen, and those who dive for scallops, would not be subject to the same restrictions as those who trawl for prawns - but Roy Middleton, the only creel fisherman working out of Rothesay harbour, is still concerned about the SIFT proposal.
“The new proposals, selfishly, would suit me a lot better,” Roy told The Buteman, “but you cannot be throwing people on the scrapheap who have invested their lives and money in their boats.
“It’s just not right that they should be penalised unfairly. Conservation is a great thing, and I know what SIFT are trying to do, but it has to be done in the right way, and the knock-on effects would go much deeper than it would first appear.
“I have a really good relationship with the local trawlers. Like Colin, I sell most of my catch to a company called Scotprime, in Troon, and any restrictions put on trawlers wouldn’t help their business - and might mean there’s no business for me to sell my catch to either.
“Rothesay doesn’t have a massive fishing fleet, and every job that is here is precious.”
But SIFT director Charles Millar, a corporate environmental consultant who chairs the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, has insisted the Trust’s proposals are the only way to reduce the Clyde fishing industry’s reliance on shellfish.
“The Clyde once hosted a rich mixed fishery for cod, whiting, herring and many other species,” Mr Millar said.
“Those days have gone, and now over 99 per cent of landings from the Firth are shellfish. The current overdependence on prawns and scallops is bad for economic and environmental security, both of which leave local communities exposed.
“Our proposal is the only way to help the shellfishery whilst also bringing back commercial stocks of finfish.
“It is 21st century fishery management. It brings in spatial management, devolves control to local people and addresses long-standing challenges like gear conflict between different sectors of the fishery.
“These proposals are a chance to bring the best international practice here to benefit the local and the national economy. We know from the many thousands of local supporters for the Revive the Clyde campaign who have called for the sort of measures the Regulating Order offers, that there is huge demand for action.
“The economic consequences of continued inaction are stark. We hope the proposed regulating order will be approved.”
The Clyde Fishermen’s Association says SIFT’s proposals do not take account of the social and economic impacts of limiting prawn and scallop fishing around the Clyde - and that they were a major shock to the industry.
Elaine Whyte, the CFA’s executive secretary, said: “This isn’t just going to affect fishermen. SIFT haven’t looked at any of the community knock-ons - boatyards, netmakers, pubs, restaurants or shops. There’s been no analysis of the socio-economic impact at community level.
“We commissioned a study of the socio-economic impact of the proposals, and the figures for Kintyre alone were absolutely terrifying.
“In a rural economy this becomes extremely dangerous. The last thing we should be doing is taking away indigenous industries and damaging local communities and local economies but that’s what these proposals will do.”
The CFA has also criticised Scottish Government proposals for much tougher ‘marine protected areas’ (MPAs) - which, it says, go far beyond those agreed in the course of four years of consultation with industry representatives and Scottish Natural Heritage.
“The issue of MPAs was something the Scottish Government consulted with fishermen on for four years,” Ms Whyte continued.
“SNH said certain areas had to be protected for conservation reasons, and the fishermen agreed - it was at a cost to them, but they were quite happy to be conservation-minded and to agree a compromise.
“We were concerned that some of the groups lobbying for more extensive MPAs and regulating orders were doing so quite vigorously, and we got a shock in June when [environment minister] Richard Lochhead announced something which was exactly what these lobbyists had been demanding.”
Michael Russell, the SNP MSP for Argyll and Bute, said: “My positon is as it has been since the start of this process. Like the Clyde fishermen I support the MPAs but I do accept that there needed to be further discussion about the exact boundaries and there needed to be some compensation for those affected.
“As a member of the Parliament’s rural affairs committee I managed to get the committee to hold a session looking at the issues.
“The committee agreed and as a result Richard Lochhead agreed to re-examine the proposals. He did so and brought forward some changes and some money to assist those affected. He also undertook to examine any socio economic impacts that might arise.
“I am not in favour of the regulating order. I think legislation should come from government, not from voluntary bodies and any such proposal needs intense scrutiny.”
Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie McGrigor added: “I am very concerned that the current proposals risk hitting individual fishermen- and the processors that depend on them- disproportionately and putting their livelihoods in jeopardy.
“MSPs and MPs from Richard Lochhead’s own party are also urging him to think again about these proposals and I will continue to support fishermen in Argyll and Bute and up and down the west coast, who are rightly calling for them to be reconsidered and for a proper analysis of the socio-economic impact to be conducted before revised plans are introduced.”
A report prepared for Argyll and Bute Council’s environment, development and infrastucture committee meeting on January 14 queried several aspects of SIFT’s application, and highlights the ICES advice, mentioned by Colin McArthur, on increasing landing quotas for 2016.
The report, written by Mark Steward, the council’s marine and coastal development manager, says: “It is considered that there is a significant degree of uncertainty as to whether the management measures proposed to promote finfish recovery will be effective, as there are likely to be many factors influencing the recovery of whitefish stocks which might not be affected by management changes.
“It is therefore considered important that Marine Scotland carefully consider the potential for proposed measures to achieve their stated goals and associated benefits in order to reduce the risk of predicted long term economic and environmental benefits not offsetting any economic and social impacts from changes in management.”
But Dunoon councillor Michael Breslin, who also sits on SIFT’s board of directors, said: “I understand the concerns of local fishermen but we think our proposals are very modest and they are designed to save and enhance the Clyde fishery and the livelihoods of our fishermen.
“We have exactly the same objective as our fishermen; in fact we see these measures as being in their long term interests and those of the Clyde communities as a whole.”