A MARINE protection charity has criticised the Scottish Government over what it described as its partial “U-turn” on the seasonal closure of part of the Clyde fishing grounds.

Last month, The National told of the anger amongst fishing communities over the closure of the “cod-box” to conserve stocks.

At the beginning of this month, the Scottish Government announced that parts of the Clyde will close to all fishing activity between February 14 and April 30 this year and next, to protect cod during their spawning season.

They said it was a change from the previous closure which included exemptions to allow nephrops (prawn) trawlers, creelers and scallop dredgers to continue to fish in the area.

The decision to close the area to all fishing this year and next came because cod stocks had shown little sign of recovery, despite the seasonal closure.

However, Phil Taylor, head of policy at Open Seas, said the decline of cod in the Clyde was a clear example of the “biodiversity crisis” unfolding in our seas.

“The population on the west coast has declined from more than 50,000 tonnes in 1981 to 3300 in 2020,” he said.

“We are deeply disappointed that Scottish Ministers have made a depressing U-turn on their plans to recover cod.

“This not only threatens the purpose of the seasonal closure, it also flies in the face of Ministers' own rhetoric to provide 'maximum protection' to spawning cod.”

Taylor said the evidence showed that bottom trawlers fishing in the area largely for the scampi market, “bycatch” large quantities of cod during the spawning season.

“The proposals put forward by Scottish Ministers will effectively allow much of this activity to continue as it has done for the past two decades,” he said.

“Moreover the measures unfairly ban lower impact fisheries, such as creeling and diving, that cause significantly less disturbance to spawning cod.

“After an extremely poorly handled process, it’s another hollow announcement from Marine Scotland.”

However, Mairi Gougeon, the Rural Affairs Secretary, said she had listened to stakeholders’ concerns and taken them on board following “extremely constructive” talks over recent days.

“As a result of these discussions and based on the scientific evidence, we have introduced closures that are more focused and targeted, reducing the overall size of the closure compared to previous years by 28%,” she said.

“However, this part of the Clyde area will still largely be closed to all fishing, eliminating disturbance during these critical 11 weeks for future cod stocks.

“We will continue our engagement with all parties involved and increase monitoring of activity in order to assess progress.

“A stocktake meeting will be held with stakeholders after the closure period to reflect upon its effectiveness and impacts. We will also ensure we learn from this experience and apply any lessons to future closures.

“The revised closure areas are a pragmatic and evidence-based solution to ensure that primarily, we are still seeking to protect the spawning cod whilst also mitigating potential socio-economic impacts on our vulnerable coastal communities.”