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Concerns raised over Clyde cod population collapse
The Our Seas alliance has warned that west coast cod populations have collapsed and that Scottish Government protection measures offer little protection or chance of the population ever recovering.
The stark warning from the alliance representing marine businesses, community groups, Scottish fishing associations, and environmental and recreational groups comes after the Scottish Government’s review of protective measures for Clyde cod stocks.
It has come under fire from campaigners as offering no protection from the activities that are most likely to harm cod’s spawning grounds.
Our Seas said the last year saw the lowest adult populations of west of Scotland cod ever recorded and scientists have advised that no cod are caught from the west coast stock in 2022.
The protection measures that are being criticized include an area of the Firth of Clyde which is temporarily closed every year so that theoretically cod can breed undisturbed.
However, there are exemptions so that certain methods of fishing can continue uninterrupted, including bottom-trawling and scallop dredging, which are widely acknowledged to be the most environmentally-damaging form of fishing in UK waters.
Bottom-trawling and dredging rake across the seabed in areas that are supposed to be closed and which contain essential fish habitat for spawning cod, yet the Scottish Government currently allows for bottom-towed fishing gear to operate in the area they are trying to protect.
Ailsa McLellan, coordinator of the Our Seas coalition, said; ‘These measures are clearly not working, this is one of many examples of the Scottish Government talking a good game with respect to marine and fisheries management, whilst failing to do anything effective to improve the situation.
‘The west of Scotland cod stock has collapsed, with no signs of the population recovering. How can anyone expect fish populations to recover without changing fisheries management?
‘Catch limits are continually set above scientific advice and there is no monitoring or enforcement of the ban on discards.
‘It is known that the Nephrops trawl fleet catches and discards a significant number of cod as bycatch, and both trawling and dredging impact the seabed as heavy gear is towed behind the boats, so it makes no sense for these fishing methods to be allowed in an area that is supposedly closed for the benefit of cod conservation.’
Closer to home, Jenny Crockett, outreach and communications manager for Community of Arran Seabed Trust Arran (COAST), which is also a member of Our Seas coalition, said: ‘One of the greatest failings of this legislation is that trawling and dredging are permitted within the closed area, negating any benefit from ‘protecting’ spawning grounds.
‘Fisheries management measures tend to focus on controlling the amount of fish caught and technical fishing gear measures that support this, although these measures are important, protecting habitats that are crucial to the life history of the target fish must be a more prominent part of the overall approach for fisheries management.
‘Research is showing the crucial role of seabed habitat in supporting early life stages of fish such as cod, and that the biodiversity of the seabed affects the abundance and growth of juvenile demersal fish.
‘It is therefore time for the Scottish Government to address fisheries protection in the Clyde with an ecosystem-based approach to protect essential habitats, such as cod spawning grounds.’
David Nairn of Clyde Porpoise, a member of Our Seas coalition, added: ‘Overfishing and failing to actually protect marine protected areas guarantees stock collapse – these stocks are in poor shape as a result of deliberate policy decisions currently supported and made by the Scottish Government.
‘Both cod and their spawning habitats are ‘Priority’ Marine Features as designated by the Scottish Government.
‘It’s time ministers lived up to their obligations, and started addressing the horrific biodiversity loss we have witnessed over the past few decades.’
Our Seas coalition are calling for the urgent reinstatement of an inshore limit on the use of bottom towed fishing gear around Scotland’s coasts to halt and reverse the damage done to habitats, carbon sinks, and fisheries by prawn trawling and scallop dredging.