The Sustainable Inshore Fisheries Trust, a charity set up to promote an economically and environmentally viable fishing industry for future generations, has recruited Alex Watson Crook as a dedicated Firth of Clyde Project Coordinator.
Alex, who has been professionally active in fisheries management for more than 15 years, has been tasked with developing and implementing SIFT’s sustainable fishery management plan for the Firth of Clyde.
“Fish stocks are running dangerously low in the Clyde with white fish being especially badly hit,” said Alex, whose career to date has included roles as a Fishery Officer with the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency, Senior Fishery Officer with the Solway Shellfish Management Association and Local Coordinator at Clyde Inshore Fisheries Group.
“Part of the challenge is to restore the Clyde’s white fish populations. The other essential task is to raise awareness about the scale of the problem facing the Clyde among the general public and fishermen.
“It is early days but any future management plan will have to have fisheries management tools along with biological and economic considerations at its heart.”
The Firth of Clyde is the country’s largest inland sea stretching from the Mull of Kintyre in Argyll to Corsewell Point in Dumfries and Galloway and covers an area of over 3600 square kilometres that include the Kyles of Bute, Lochs Fyne, Striven and Long.
Historically the Clyde was heavily reliant on fisheries and in particular many of the more rural communities were dependent on the industry which passed its skills down from one generation to another.
However, overfishing and destructive practices have caused an almost total collapse of the fishery over the last 40 years. Its famous and historic herring industry was wiped out first with catches declining from a high of 44,000 tonnes a year during the Second World War to a situation where stocks are so low that it does not merit economic assessment.
Some 72 per cent of the remaining Clyde stock is made up of whiting of which around 85 per cent are less than the legal minimum landing size. The Clyde ecosystem is extremely degraded, with the once great white fish, herring and recreational fisheries now closed or a minute fraction of their former state.
“Fishing was the lifeblood of many of these rural communities and the bigger towns and cities for that matter. For economic reasons, biodiversity reasons and ecological reasons it’s imperative that we restore the Clyde,” said Alex, who grew up in the Solway Firth area and has lived for many years on the shores of the Clyde,.
“I want to see these coastal areas being used for economic benefit but having considerations for the ecological balance and other recreational users of the sea.
“I have worked with fishermen since I graduated in Applied Marine Biology in 1997, working for much of that time in fishing management directly. I have experience of working with many of the partners we’ll need to engage with during this process. I have a genuine interest in the Clyde and want to see it managed to produce the best possible outcome.”
SIFT has already begun to draw up plans for establishing a large reserve which bans trawlers but would still allow traditional creel fishing and line fishing. The charity is due shortly to publish an economic evaluation into how a meaningfully sized reserved area could create a substantial increase in marine jobs and income for local communities.
SIFT Chairman Robert Younger said: “We are delighted that Alex has joined SIFT as she brings with her a wealth of knowledge about Scottish fisheries management particularly in the south west.
“We believe that this expertise and her experience of working with fishery stakeholder groups will enable SIFT to achieve its objectives of reversing the decline in the Clyde fishery and bring about the restoration of an economically viable mixed fishery within the Firth of Clyde”.
For more information about the Sustainable Inshore Fisheries Trust please visit www.sift-uk.org