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Overfishing

From the 1920s, there was a big decline in the herring fishing industry. The problem of overfishing was recognised in the 1950s. Catches fell dramatically in the 1960s. Smaller catches encouraged the fishermen to look for new ways to catch herring. This led to the introduction of new types of netting. There were also advances in technology. These only worsened the problem.

In 1972 Britain joined the European Economic Community. Many Scottish fishermen worried about the effect this would have on their fishing. The EEC developed a Common Fisheries Policy. At a simplistic level, it uses quotas to share out the fish catch between the member states.

Klondyker at Aberdeen, July 2000

The North Sea catch declined from 500 000 tonnes in 1972 to less than 170 000 tonnes in 1976. In 1976 the North East stock of herring had fallen from 1.2 million tonnes to 300 000 tonnes, of which only about 50% were capable of breeding. In December 1977, the British herring catch was at its lowest for a century. A ban on herring fishing was introduced on the East Coast in 1977. The ban was only supposed to last for a short time, but it actually lasted for four years. Selective fishing was reintroduced in 1981 and it was strictly regulated.

Since the 1970s there have been many different schemes and agreements to try to control the fisheries. For example quotas have been introduced and there have been programmes of fishing boat decommissioning. There have been many disagreements about how to divide quotas fairly. There have also been problems of countries not sticking to quotas and of illegal fishing. In all this, politics has played a major part. However, this is an area far too lengthy and complex to enter into here!

Much has changed. The seas are now over-exploited. The fishing industry used to depend on the development of technology and human effort. This is no longer the case. Careful management of fish stocks is now most important. Stocks of herring have made some recovery since the worst period in 1977, but are still at only a fraction of former levels. At the turn of the century, the greatest concern has shifted to white fish. Drastic measures to control white fish stocks were agreed at the end of 2002.

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