Sustainable Scotland
Sustainable Scotland

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Sustainable Scotland

6 A short history of fishing

When we think about fishing in Scotland, we tend to think of herring, the 'Silver Darlings', and the herring boom of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. However, Scotland had a fairly established fishing industry during the medieval period (Coull, 2001a). The centre of that fledgling industry was centred around the Firth of Forth and the Clyde.

The Dutch dominated the herring industry in the 1600s using large vessels that cured and processed the catch on board. Attempts to replicate the Dutch model in Scotland foundered. However, as the shoals of herring were fairly close to shore, the Scottish model became one where small open boats would land the catch and it was then processed onshore. Even as boat sizes increased through the 19th century, the practice of onshore processing continued.

The migration patterns of the herring dictated the position of the curing stations, and the East Coast (access to the North Sea), North Scotland, the Shetlands and the Western Isles became increasingly important in the 19th century. Coull (2001b) notes that as the profitability of fishing dwindled so the focus of the industry moved to more remote and marginal ports. Thus today the majority of the UK's fishing fleet is now based in the north-east of Scotland.

Activity 10

Visit these sites for historical information and a tour of the Scottish Fisheries Museum [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

Make notes on what you have read

While we might think about over-fishing and dwindling catches as a contemporary problem, the ecological effects of the intensive exploitation of marine resources has been recognised for some time. For example, in 1902 the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) — actually the countries around the North Sea — was set up to monitor stocks and catches and to make conservation recommendations.

The effects of larger boats on local fisheries were also being recognised. Perring's (2001) history of fishing on Fair Isle notes that by 1906 the Shetland Times was beginning to carry stories about the impact of trawlers on the Shetland fishery. However, it was only after WWII that any regulations were put in place. These mainly related to mesh size (Coull, 2001b). After Britain joined the Common Market (later the EU) at the beginning of 1973 it became a member of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Activity 11

Familiarise yourself with the CFP, as the EU CFP framework is the single most important policy factor in the sustainable fisheries within Scotland.

Make notes on what you have read

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