Cabinet Rural Secretary Mairi Gougeon says there are no plans to amend the statutory instrument on the Seasonal Clyde Cod Spawning Closure

Cabinet Rural Secretary Mairi Gougeon says there are no plans to amend the statutory instrument on the Seasonal Clyde Cod Spawning Closure

On Tuesday, 01 March. the Cabinet Rural Secretary Mairi Gougeon answered several written questions from Scottish Labour MSP for Dumbarton, Jackie Baille on the Seasonal Clyde Cod Spawning Closure but said there are no plans to amend the statutory instrument order.

The Seasonal Clyde Cod Spawning Closure this year has been devastating for the fishing community in the area as for the first time as previous exemptions allowed nephrops trawlers, creels, and scallop dredgers to continue to use the area, but under new regulations for 2022 and 2023, these methods of fishing have also been banned from the Firth of Clyde for the period of 11 weeks between 14 April and 30 April.

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The decision has been met with heavy criticism from fishing organisations and fishermen alike with the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation Chair, Elspeth Macdonald calling it “devastating news for those making their living fishing in the Clyde” and accused the Scottis Government of a “botched handling of this specific issue”.

The Clyde Fishermen’s Association condemned the regulation saying that the decision was “disconnected from fishing communities,” as “such a plan that will see fishing families left without their incomes for a three-month period, especially after the effects of COVID-19 and the fallout from Brexit”.

Hannah Fennel of the Orkney Fisheries Association also weigherd in on the criticism of the Scottish Government’s handling of the Clyde Cod fishery saying, “Marine Scotland made the decision to remove the exemptions of the SCCSC, saying that the stocks weren’t showing adequate recovery. Now NO fishing can be carried out during the spawning season.”

This has prompted sever MSP’s to question the wisdom of the Closure and the effects it will have on ordinary working fishing families who depend on the Firth of Clyde to earn a living.

Gougeon has previously defended the new regulation saying:

“The course of action that we have taken since the closure was announced is the right one. We have listened to our stakeholders. We got scientists, fishers and environmental organisations together to try to chart a way forward. That is how we should continue to work when we deal with such vital issues. I do not know whether the member would prefer us not to have listened and taken action on the back of the information that we received and the discussion that we had with our stakeholders.

“I believe that the position that we have taken is the right one. We are keen to work with our stakeholders as we move forward and look to introduce measures such as highly protected marine areas.”

In her questions to Secretary Gougeon Jackie Baille asked:

“To ask the Scottish Government what scientific evidence was considered, prior to its decision to remove the customary exemptions to a seasonal ban on white fish catches, which is expected to come into force on 14 February 2022, and whether it will publish any such evidence.”

To which Minister Gougeon answered:

“The area of the revised closure is based on sediment distribution in the Firth of Clyde, with greater protection for those sediment types known to be favoured by spawning cod. Full details and coordinates are available at: Fishing closures: Firth of Clyde – 2022 and 2023 – gov.scot (www.gov.scot) and https://www.gov.scot/publications/cod-spawning-areas-research/

“The non-continuation of the exemptions is based on scientific evidence that, while spawning, cod are extremely vulnerable to disturbance. They are focussed on mating, and the males are unwilling to leave their hard-won leks, so both sexes are less likely to try and evade oncoming fishing gear which means that mating adults are at risk of being caught. In addition, physical disturbance within the relevant areas of the Firth of Clyde during the mating period will disrupt the mating activity and potentially destroy the lek areas, and cod so disturbed may not return (and therefore may not spawn that year). Removal of all fishing activity in the closure areas should significantly mitigate this risk. If the stronger males are caught or disrupted leaving the weaker males, those males that remain may not be able to attract females. Moreover, stressed males are less likely to initiate mating. Noise may also disrupt mating, with females potentially unable to hear mating calls (Slabbekoorn et al 2010).”

Baille also had a question for the Minister for what reasons it plans to remove customary exemptions to a seasonal ban on white fish catches, which is expected to come into force on 14 February 2022?

Ms Gougeon answered:

“A seasonal spawning closure in the Firth of Clyde has been in place for over 20 years to provide an area to protect cod during their spawning season (14 February – 30 April). Since its introduction in 2001, the closure has included exemptions to allow Nephrops trawlers, creels, and scallop dredgers to continue to fish in the area, due to the low numbers of cod they catch. However, despite the ongoing seasonal closure, the stock has shown little sign of recovery. The Scottish Government has therefore decided to introduce a revised and more targeted closure. The overall size of the closure compared to previous years has been reduced by 28%, while providing increased protection to spawning cod by prohibiting all fishing activity in the closed areas for 11 weeks from 14th February in both 2022 and 2023.

“This decision is underpinned by analysis of sediment distribution in the Clyde, as well as by scientific research which suggests that any fishing activity within 10m of the seabed (which would include trawling, dredging and creeling) has the potential to impact on cod spawning activity. Given the vulnerability of cod to any disturbance during the spawning season, we believe that it is appropriate not to continue the exemptions in order to provide a higher chance of stock recovery and contribute to a more sustainable fishery in the West of Scotland in the medium-longer term. We will be increasing monitoring in the area during the period of the closure. We will also arrange a review meeting with stakeholders at the end of the closure to assess its effectiveness and practicality.”

Baille asked whether the Scottish Government can guarantee that the planned three-month removal of customary exemptions to a seasonal ban on white fish catches, which is expected to come into force on 14 February 2022, will not be extended further.

To which the Secretary replied, “The Sea Fish (Prohibition on Fishing) (Firth of Clyde) (No. 2) Order 2022 introduces a closure for 11 weeks from 14 February in both 2022 and 2023. Both the timing of the closure and the statutory approach are consistent with the approach the Scottish Government has taken to this closure since 2001. There are no plans at this time to amend the statutory instrument cited above.”

by Oliver McBride

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Gougeon says no plans to amend Seasonal Clyde Cod Spawning Closure

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