Final decisions have now been made for the Marine Protected Areas off South Arran, in Loch Fyne and Loch Goil.
The process has not been easy for many from the fishing fleet or for environmental campaigners, with many of the former aggrieved that the areas to be closed around South Arran go beyond the original options provided by Ministers; and the latter unhappy that the closures still do not go far enough to fully protect the marine environment.
At the same time, the Sustainable Inshore Fisheries Trust [SIFT] has lodged its application for a Regulating Order to manage the entire 3700km2 Firth of Clyde fishery in a way which benefits it for the long term. The proposals centre on plans to restrict prawn and scallop fishing in 17 zones around the Firth. These zones would allow stocks and the seabed to recover – bringing benefits to the fishing areas as well as to the wider ecosystem.
Our plans would close 8% of the Firth to all commercial prawn and scallop fishing, and roughly a further 20% to prawn trawling and scallop dredging [but not creeling or diving]. 72% of the Clyde would remain open to mobile gear fishing and over 90% would remain open to creelers and divers.
There are many differences between the Regulating Order and the MPAs, not just in terms of the size of the areas covered.
The MPAs are conservation measures, with indirect economic aims; whereas the Regulating Order has primarily economic aims – to bring about a stronger and more sustainable shellfishery alongside the benefits of a restored finfish industry, revived sea angling and a healthier marine environment.
Another key difference is that the Regulating Order, would put control of the local fishery in the hands of a new local Management Organisation [not SIFT], with half the seats on the board reserved for those who fish in the area, and the rest split between other stakeholders. Such management organisations already work elsewhere, and we’re confident they can work on the Clyde too.
Effectively the only alternative proposal on the table at the moment is to let the Clyde carry on being managed as it is currently – and that isn’t in the interest of the majority of stakeholders.
Existing management oversaw the decline of finfish stocks from the 1980s to the point that 99% of the catch on the Clyde is shellfish, most of which is scallops and prawns. Evidence from elsewhere tells us that fisheries that depend on one or two species are vulnerable – be it to climate change, market changes, or to disease. We also know that the current management leads to all-too-frequent conflicts over fishing gear, where trawling, dredging and creeling run up against each other.
Our economic assessment suggests the Clyde could, with the sort of management we propose, be supporting around 100 new fishing jobs in the commercial fleet. The assessment also shows that even more jobs could be created around recreational angling. The boost this could bring to the local economy, especially in Argyll and Bute but also on Arran and down the Ayrshire coast is significant.
If the Clyde is to be a sustainable source of benefits in future we need to apply the best modern management tools. Like any asset it needs to be well managed. And as a public asset it needs to be managed for all of us – be they fishermen, anglers, wildlife enthusiasts or others. We think it’s time to see our seas as something in which there is legitimate public interest.
SIFT’s proposals might initially be controversial; in a large part because zoning proposals on this scale have not been tried in Scotland before. But we know that similar measures work well in other countries. We hope that success on the Clyde will inspire other coastal communities, in Scotland and further afield, to come together and plan how to look after the marine environment so it can best provide for all of us.
If you want to know more about SIFT’s proposals, take a look at the Information Pack here. And if you have views on this important issue, please take a minute to reply to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the link here, before the 18th January deadline. It’s not a complex technical consultation: it’s an opportunity for everyone with an interest in the Clyde just to say what they think.
Charles Millar, Director, SIFT