50 for the Future – End overfishing

Our recent publication, 50 for the Future, lists 50 things that we believe should happen in Scotland over the next 50 years to benefit both people and wildlife. In this week's 50 for the Future article, Andrew Binnie, Executive Director for the Community of Arran Seabed Trust, discusses the impact that overfishing can have on coastal communities.


Number 29: End overfishing and halt all destructive fishing methods


In the 1970s and 80s, a public demand for fish combined with new technological advancements in the fishing industry resulted in a rapid increase in the number of fish being landed in Scotland. This period of success was short-lived, however, and by the 1990s the abundance of landed fish began to plateau. It is evident that the unmanaged activity of a highly efficient fishing industry led to overfishing of wild fish stockswhen the rate of fish removal is greater than the rate of fish production. Additionally, some of the practices being used caused tremendous physical damage to sensitive marine habitats, many of which will not recover. Together, these two factors have led to the near collapse of many commercial fish stocks and compromised the health of our marine environment. 

In Scotland, we are starting to see a more proactive movement in protecting our marine environment, from government action via the establishment of a network of Marine Protected Areas, to many local community group initiatives. Our guest blogger, Andrew Binnie, is the Executive Director of the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST), a globally recognised community-led marine conservation organisation that has been instrumental in campaigning for the effective management of Arran’s coastal waters.

When sea life thrives, coastal communities thrive

Showing visitors marine snaps taken by divers from the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) is revealing. Many think that they are looking at photos of the Red Sea or the Caribbean. The sun striking through seagrass meadows or rocks covered in colourful sea anemones and dead man’s fingers just don’t make people think of Scotland. And a male cuckoo wrasse? Is that really from here and not an escapee from a tropical tank? If only it was easier to show visitors the wonderful sea life that can still be found in some areas around our shores. It would then be easier to make the case for its conservation and restoration.

A male cuckoo wrasse. © Paul Naylor

Healthy, productive seas support all types of fishing. Inshore, they also support marine recreation such as kayaking, sailing, snorkelling, diving and sea angling. In the past, when the Clyde supported bountiful large white fish, Arran had a flourishing sea angling festival, as did many other places around the Clyde. These stocks disappeared following the end of the three mile limit on bottom trawling. Without decent-sized fish, anglers don’t come, boat hire operators go out of business and accommodation providers suffer. Marine life boat trips also struggle. The people who lose most are coastal and fishing communities who have lost hundreds of commercial and recreational fishing related jobs in the last 50 years. There are still some skippers making a good living, but there are far fewer boats fishing the Clyde than there used to be. Unfortunately, the ones that are still in business are mostly fishing for prawns and scallops using damaging methods which inhibit the recovery of white fish stocks. Trawling and dredging degrades seabed habitats, destroying productive fish spawning and nursery grounds and further impacting on the viability of coastal communities.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Our community group (COAST) has raised awareness about these issues and successfully campaigned for the creation of the Lamlash Bay No Take Zone (NTZ) and the South Arran Marine Protected Area (MPA). These areas protect fragile species and habitats and give them a chance to recover. Seafloor biodiversity in our NTZ is twice as rich as it is in areas outside. This bodes well for our new MPA and local sea life.

The South Arran MPA begins just south of Brodick Bay (pictured) and covers
over 250 km2. © Clydecoast, Creative Commons

With inspired leadership, Scotland’s waters, marine ecosystems and fisheries could be far healthier. The Scottish Government has an opportunity to drive change in the management of our seas and create the conditions for far more marine-dependent jobs, including jobs for more fishers than we have now using more sustainable fishing methods. Communities need to keep making the case for better management of our marine life. For COAST, it is clear that the Clyde has the potential to be far more than just a prawn and scallop fishery. It is time we managed it for future generations and restored its health and reputation as one of the richest and most biodiverse marine ecosystems in the world.

Let us know your thoughts by emailing thefuture@scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk or Tweet @ScotWildlife using #50fortheFuture.

 Andrew Binnie is the Executive Director of the Community of Arran Seabed Trust.

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In this week's 50 for the Future article, Andrew Binnie discusses the impact that overfishing can have on coastal communities.

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