Protests grow over shock Clyde fishing ban

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Politicians have rallied behind the Argyll’s fishing industry after a shock announcement that a chunk of the Clyde fishery will be closed to all boats for almost a quarter of the year.

Anger and dismay quickly followed the announcement at Holyrood by Mairi Gougeon, cabinet secretary for rural affairs and islands, of an 11-week fishing ban – a decision, say fishing leaders, made with no prior discussion.

The row centres on measures to protect spawning cod by closing off an area of the Firth of Clyde between the south of Arran and Mull of Kintyre across to Loch Ryan.

Fishermen, scientists and government collaborated to design the ‘Cod Box Scheme’, and there has been an exemption allowed for nephrops trawlers, creels and scallop dredgers to fish in the area due to the low amounts of cod they catch.

But the latest consultation between October and November 2021 led to the Scottish Government removing the exemption.

The area will now be closed from February 14 to April 30, in both 2022 and 2023.

Argyll and Bute MSP Jenni Minto met Ms Gougeon on Wednesday this week and said: ‘I was disappointed at the announcement last week as I am all too aware of the impact this will have on fishing communities.’

At the meeting, Ms Minto said she would be asking for a full breakdown of the science which has led to the decision.

And it is the science which has led to particular frustration in the fishing industry.

In a statement, the Clyde Fishermen’s Association (CFA) said its own members first proposed the Clyde Box Closure more than 20 years ago to protect spawning stocks, adding: ‘Science on the west coast is generally quite data deficient, often due to a lack of resources.

‘For three years the CFA, St Andrew’s University and Marine Scotland worked together to conduct neutral baseline surveys to assess basic cod and finfish populations in the Clyde Cod Box area. The trials were stopped in 2018 due to staffing issues at Marine Scotland, but the CFA and St Andrews University have consistently requested that the trials are restarted and are keen to support them. Without such trials the practical knowledge is missing and informed policy decisions are difficult to take.’

The CFA continued: ‘We have made continuous efforts to find sustainable ways of ensuring our coastal communities can survive and work with government and our ministers.

‘It is therefore incredibly demoralising and soul-destroying to see such positive measures being turned against the sustainably-minded fishermen who helped create them, all without any meaningful involvement.’

CFA chairman Tommy Finn said the industry feels ‘disrespected’ and continued: ‘It’s going to impact not only boats, crew and factories, but also school numbers and jobs in local shops and services.

‘The government talks of initiatives to repopulate rural communities, but such an action seems almost aimed at driving out fishing families in the Clyde area.’

Argyll and Bute Council leader Robin Currie has written to the government and said: ‘This shift in approach presents a very real risk to survival of this vital local industry.’

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: ‘Despite [the Clyde Cod Box] the stock has shown little sign of recovery, so we have decided to remove these exemptions to provide a higher chance of recovery for cod and potentially other stock, contributing to a more sustainable fishery in the west of Scotland in the medium to longer term.

‘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 and is supported by the most up-to-date scientific evidence.

‘We appreciate this will have a short-term impact on local fishers,’ continued the spokesperson, ‘but taking action now to try to replenish cod and potentially other stock for the longer term is ultimately beneficial for fishing as well.’