Early evidence of the impact of preindustrial fishing on fish stocks from the mid-west and south east coastal fisheries of Scotland in the ninteenth century

Peter Jones, Alison Cathcart, Douglas C. Speirs

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In recent years, historical ecologists have turned their attention to the long-term impact of fishing on coastal marine ecosystems in the North Atlantic. Through the examination of non-traditional sources scientists and scholars are beginning to piece together a clearer picture of ecosystem change over centuries of anthropogenic influence. One aspect of this long-term approach is that data are being recovered from some surprising sources, and, when placed alongside other evidence, is being used to create models of change through time where previously none would have been thought possible (e.g. Jackson et al, 2001; Saénz-Arroyo et al, 2006; Poulson et al, 2007; Bolster et al, 2011; MacKenzie et al, 2011). Taking its lead from this work, our research takes a mixed approach to the history of Scotland’s regional fisheries in the nineteenth century, combining the anecdotal evidence of fishermen to parliamentary commissions of enquiry with data relating to landings and fishing effort which was gathered by the United Kingdom Fishery Board from 1809 onwards. As a result, it has been possible to calculate catch per unit effort (CPUE) for the period between 1845 and the mid-1880s which, when placed alongside the direct evidence of fishermen, lead to some unexpected conclusions. In particular, we demonstrate that inshore stocks of commercial whitefish appear to have been in decline by the mid-1850s in some areas, many years before the widespread adoption of beam trawling in Scotland; and we conclude that the most likely reason for this decline is the rapid intensification of fishing from open boats using the traditional techniques of handlines and longlines.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1404-1414
Number of pages11
JournalICES Journal of Marine Science
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2016


  • fisheries
  • fish stocks
  • coastal fisheries
  • Scottish fisheries
  • marine ecosystems

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