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Last Updated: Monday, 21 May 2007, 18:11 GMT 19:11 UK
BBC Springwatch: Recovering fish
By Nick Higham
Lamlash Bay, Isle of Arran

Maerl (BBC)
The maerl gives the scallops somewhere to spawn

As part of his BBC Springwatch series on changing habitats in the UK, Nick Higham reports on efforts to re-build fish stocks in the Firth of Clyde.

In the 1970s, Lamlash Bay on the Isle of Arran played host to an annual sea angling festival. Each year, the total catch over the weekend of the festival amounted to anything up to 5,000 fish, weighing 16,000 lbs.

By 1994, the last year of the festival, the catch had fallen to less than 200 lbs.

Lamlash Bay, like much of the Firth of Clyde in which Arran sits, has been fished out: only one commercially significant species remains in the bay.

Scallops are a highly priced delicacy, but even they are threatened by the very technique used to harvest them.

Scallop dredgers drag along the seabed, destroying everything in their path, including maerl, a kind of pink coral, which is beautiful, fragile, increasingly rare and a wonderful nursery for shellfish and a host of other species.

Lamlash Bay used to be full of maerl; there are still some patches left, but most has gone, and with it have gone the cod, the plaice, the haddock, the turbot and the lobster which used to swarm in the Clyde.

A local campaign group, Coast (it stands for Community of Arran Seabed Trust) thinks it has the answer - turning part of Lamlash Bay into a "no take zone" for fishing, only the second such zone in British waters (the other is off Lundy in the Bristol Channel).

No take zones have helped regenerate fish stocks in other parts of the world by offering species a protected spawning ground, according to Coast's chairman, Don Macneish, who was brought up beside Lamlash Bay.

A win-win solution

Coast has been campaigning for a ban for years; now it seems it may be about to achieve its aim, or something close.

The Clyde's fishermen are as perturbed by falling stocks as anyone; but they're opposed to a total ban on fishing, even in a limited area like the northern end of Lamlash Bay.

And experts question whether a no take zone in such a small area, whatever it may do for shellfish, can really help regenerate stocks of other free-swimming species like cod.

But with the help of Scottish Natural Heritage and other agencies, a compromise seems to be emerging: a "fisheries project", with the ostensible aim not of conservation but of developing the commercial fishery.

Crucially, it would ban scallop fishing in part of the bay - preserving the maerl, giving scallops somewhere to spawn and giving the Coast campaigners much of what they want.

So Lamlash Bay, largely cut off from the rest of the Clyde by the bulk of Holy Island, could become a fascinating test-bed - an experiment in regenerating fish stocks; an attempt to balance the needs of commerce and conservation; and a pioneering attempt to rebuild the natural habitat in an environment we still know remarkably little about, Britain's inshore waters.

Lamlash Bay (BBC)
A majestic part of the world that is looking to restore its marine habitat

The BBC's Springwatch Season 2007 begins next Monday, 28 May, on BBC Two, and runs for three weeks. Bill Oddie, Kate Humble and Simon King will be reporting from across the UK on British wildlife.

BBC Springwatch: A greener games
22 May 07 |  Science/Nature


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