Scotland's West Coast Fishing Industry, by Guthrie Hutton

Scotland's West Coast Fishing Industry, by Guthrie Hutton

Published by Stenlake in 2020, 48 pages. Rectangular Paperback - 17cm by 24cm (N7818)

Brand New Book

From the introduction: The Scottish fishing industry is often characterised by images of the big east coast ports, but from the Solway to Stornoway the western coastline, with its numerous inlets and islands, is longer and hosts many harbours with a rich fishing history. A few of these ports, like Ayr can be counted amongst Scotland's oldest burghs. Some, like Campbeltown and Ullapool were developed in later years by landowners and entrepreneurs while others including Mallaig were created through the endeavours of railway companies driving their tracks westward to cash in on the demand for fish in the growing industrial towns and cities. And with large fleets of boats working out of these ports other industries were established like boat building, ice factories, box making and chandleries.

The fishing was carried out in waters as varied as the Irish Sea, the wild Atlantic seaboard and the semi-sheltered Firth of Clyde and yet one species featured almost everywhere, the herring. This ubiquitous little fish was said to actively seek its captors by appearing near to the surface in vast shoals during spawning, but while its presence was well known for centuries, it was not widely fished until after the late 18th century when government bounties allied to industrialised curing practices and better access to markets made it a most valuable fish. The great herring boom was seasonal, leaving time for the pursuit of cod, ling, haddock, halibut and other deep swimming white fish. In shallower water men working from small boats went after crabs, lobsters, langoustine and shellfish including oysters, while others netted salmon and sea trout.

A variety of techniques were deployed. Traditionally these were line fishing and drift netting, but some west coast men developed the controversial ring net that encircled the herring shoals and in more recent times the similar, but vastly bigger purse seine nets have been widely used. Trawling in deeper water and scallop dredging have added to the fishermen's arsenal, but all have contributed to reduced stocks, notably of the once plentiful herring, which has led to legislation limiting catches and some areas of sea bed being declared out of bounds.

Whether they worked in the wide ocean or sheltered loch, the men and boats were never far from danger. The sea can be a harsh environment, the weather in the west can change in an instant and other hazards lurk beneath the waves, all contributing to an industry that was hlstorically regarded as more dangerous than coal mining. The west coast has endured many tragedies. There have been dramatic rescues too, as on the night in 2015 when the Oban lifeboat plucked the five-man crew off the Kirkcudbright-based scallop dredger St Apollo moments before she sank in the Sound of Mull"

Based on a natural resource and the fickle tastes of customers, the fishing industry has had to adapt to meet modern challenges. Boats are fewer, but some are larger and once thriving ports no longer operate at the level they once did. Catches landed by small boats at small harbours travel in large refrigerated lorries to continental Europe and a new business, fish farming has come to proliferate in many sea lochs, all of which has helped to shape the way the fishing industry looks and operates.