FISHING communities have reacted with anger to the temporary closure of a large part of their fishing grounds which they say could leave many with no income for three months.

Their concern surrounds the Scottish Government’s decision to close part of the Clyde fishing grounds – the cod-box – in a bid to conserve stocks, but the Clyde Fishermen’s Association (CFA), which represents small-scale fishermen in the area, said there had been no communication from Marie Gougeon, the Cabinet Secretary responsible for fisheries, or her department.

Elaine Whyte, the CFA executive secretary, told The National: “We got a tip-off at six o'clock the night before that the area was going to be closed for three months.

“It’s important to point out we are talking about small mobile boats not large industrial trawlers.

“We’re talking about an average-sized trawler of 12 to 14 metres as small family businesses, and they will not have any income for three months starting in a few weeks.

“We've tried to be proactive and it's actually backfired on us in terms of conservation. It's almost as if everything that we've done to be proactive and conservation-minded has bitten us on the backside.”

CFA chair Tommy Finn said he was “shocked to the core” by the decision, which he said would affect more than simply those directly impacted by fishing policy: “We can’t understand the lack of communication with our small scale fishing communities, or indeed the families and businesses they support not only around the Clyde but in wider Scotland, Northern Ireland and the EU.

“This impacts not only fishing but wider policy areas such as Scottish trade, tourism and the food and drink sector. It impacts the core general socio-economics of our communities. It’s going to impact not only boats, crew and factories, but also school numbers and jobs in local shops and services.”

He said that in Campbeltown alone, the local creamery and a renewables factory had closed, and added: “The Government talk of initiatives to repopulate the rural communities, but such an action seems almost aimed at driving out fishing families who are already settled in the Clyde area.”

Finn said they had not seen the science or rationale to justify such disproportionate action, and could have proposed options which would achieve similar aims while allowing fishing to continue.

“This is sensibly the approach taken in the Irish Sea, but there has been no dialogue on any options or solutions,” he said.

He was one of those who championed the original cod-box closure more than 20 years ago to protect cod stocks from net fishing and urged Gougeon to meet with them and the fishermen who knew nothing of the new closure plan.

The Scottish Government said the 11-week seasonal closure between February 14 and April 30 to protect spawning cod in the Firth of Clyde, had been in place for 20 years and would continue in 2022-23.

A spokesperson said: “The annual closure of the spawning ground has previously included exemptions to allow Nephrops [prawn] trawlers, creels and scallop dredgers to continue to use the area, due to the low numbers of cod that they catch.

“However, despite this, the stock has shown little sign of recovery and so we have decided to remove these exemptions to provide a higher chance of stock recovery and contribute to a more sustainable fishery in the West of Scotland in the medium to longer term.”

They said the change to the seasonal closure “aligns with the commitments in the policy programme of the Bute House Agreement between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Greens”, and added: “During spawning, cod are extremely vulnerable to any activity impacting the seabed and limiting physical disturbance during the spawning period will minimise disruption to the spawning environment and promote cod reproduction.

“We appreciate this will have a short term impact on local fishers, but taking action now to try to replenish the stock for the longer term is ultimately beneficial for fishing as well.”