Many of the vessels originally fishing for fish have switched their attentions to shellfish, primarily the Norway Lobster (Nephrops norvegicus) and the Scallop (Pecten maximus). The fishery for Norway lobster began in a small way in the 1960's, with catches rising to around 2000mt in the mid 1980's, and has now settled around 1300mt in the 1990's. This is one of the smaller of the Scottish Nephrops fisheries, but is one of the most important shellfish fisheries in the Firth.
The fishery for scallops began in the 1970's. Within the confines of the Moray Firth scallop fishing is restricted to areas of sandy gravel, Smith Bank being one of the most important areas. Between September 1990 and August 1991 357mt of scallops were landed in the area. In the same period the following year 1300mt were landed. Landings have risen slowly since 1992 and were 2193mt in 1996.
There are a number of other commercially exploited shellfish species in the Moray Firth, namely lobster, edible crab, whelks, razorfish, cockles, and mussels. The mussel fishery at Tain is the largest in Scotland averaging 1450mt per year between 1992 and 1996 and while the magnitude of landings of each of the others is mostly modest compared with other areas around Scotland, the shellfish resource is locally important.
Most shellfish species are restricted to a benthic way of life and the particular environmental requirements of each species dictate their distribution. The particular topography of the Moray Firth dictates that certain species are better represented than others.
In contrast to benthic shellfish squid are pelagic in nature and undergo migrations on a scale shown by, for example, mackerel. During the autumn period squid (principally Loligo forbesi) move into the Moray Firth and are frequently taken as a bye-catch in the trawl fishery. Landings have reached as high as 400mt (1990), but the fishery is very unpredictable and there is very little directed effort.
It is worth noting that industry representatives have expressed concern about the apparent lack of recovery in inshore fish stocks, even in areas where fishing effort has shifted elsewhere and would welcome research to provide some answers.
Economic importance of fishing within the Moray Firth
Statistics for sea fisheries are collected by fisheries Districts. Those relevant to the Moray Firth Partnership are:
" Wick (Thurso to Black Isle)
" Lossiemouth (Black Isle to Lossiemouth)
" Buckie (Lossiemouth to Cullen)
" Macduff (Cullen to Macduff)
" Fraserburgh (Macduff to Fraserburgh)
In 1995 a total of 596 vessels were registered in the Moray Firth Area, and 2573 fishermen were employed. By far the largest concentration is in Fraserburgh which accounted for nearly 50% of the vessels and over 61% of employment.
These figures emphasise the difference in importance of fishing to the local economies of the various local communities and reflect the changing pattern of the fishing within the Moray Firth Partnership area.
Peak activity off the East Coast of Caithness and Sutherland was towards the end of the last century when herring fishing centered on Wick. The area now supports only 140 full-time fishermen and 155 part-time. Nearly 80% of fishing vessels are under 10m in length, and the ports show the typical pattern concentrating on inshore fishing, which has meant concentrating on Nephrops in recent years due to the decline in herring and cod in these areas. This is reflected in the catch figures which show 2209 tonnes of demersal fish landed at Wick (2120), Lybster (33), Helmsdale (32) and Dunbeath (129), and 1338 tonnes of shellfish landed at Wick (1182), Helmsdale (129), Lybster (22), Dunbeath (4) and Brora (1). Total value of this catch was £3,953,200. Wick is obviously the prime landing port within this area.
This pattern is repeated in the Easter Ross/Inverness area where Avoch (1066 tonnes fish; 3 tonnes shellfish), Portmahomack (28/1083 tonnes) and Inverness (61/37 tonnes) are the principal landing centres.
Moving eastwards into the Moray coast, Burghead and Lossiemouth account for very low landings (a combined total of 532 tonnes demersal and 303 tonnes shellfish). An illustration of Lossiemouth's declining role was the Harbour Boards decision to turn the east basin into a marina 4 to 5 years ago. Buckie, in a similar way to the Wick area, is now primarily a base for inshore fishing, particularly prawns, which accounted for 46% of landings by weight and 53% by value. Although 166 vessels are registered here, with 701 employees, the majority of vessels do not 'fish' out of Buckie, and operate out of other ports such as Peterhead and Kinlochbervie/Lochinver on the west coast. The town supports a significant fish processing infrastructure primarily through its two companies - Moray Seafoods, who employ around 250, and Strathaird (70). It is estimated that whilst Buckie accounts for only 3% of landings in Grampian and approximately 2% of tonnage, fishing dependent employment is around 38%. The boatbuilding industry in Buckie (which 20 years ago supported 3 yards) has contracted and the only remaining company - Buckie shipyard, now employing 60 - has had to diversify away from its traditional fishing vessel base.
The Macduff Fishery District landings totaled 1607 tonnes recorded at Macduff (942),
Whitehills (650) and Gardenstown (15). This figure has fallen by 25% since 1991, the
greatest loss being in demersal species, whilst shellfish has increased threefold. In contrast to the situation in Buckie, the Macduff shipyard has a busy order book for new fishing vessels.
Fraserburgh (population 13000) is estimated as having up to 50% of its workforce active in fishing or fishing related industries. In contrast to other Moray Firth ports, Fraserburgh is a major centre for pelagic fish landings, the 1995 figure being 11486 tonnes. This 'peaked' at 18910 tonnes in 1993. Whitefish landings reached their highest in 1995 at 19830 tonnes. Shellfish landings show an increase with the 6910 tonnes landed bringing the Fraserburgh total to 38227 tonnes, which had a value of over £31 million. The processing sector is well developed and there are a number of large factories within the town.
Despite this reliance on fishing it must be acknowledged that the origin of the fish landings is primarily caught outwith the study area. The inshore fishing is not particularly fruitful and in consequence most of the larger boats do not operate on a day trip basis in the Moray Firth area. Instead they are going further afield for longer periods of time and will land at ports which are more convenient, and where there are more buyers/better prices. Despite this pattern there is still a strong loyalty to home ports in terms of supplies and services. Fishing tradition and employment continue although boats are not based at local harbours, with nearly all having their own van to transport them to where the boats are kept.
However, the infrastructure (harbours, processors, supplies/services etc.) is quite obviously in place to support investment in fish farming and aquaculture activities should the potential to expand this sector be identified. This could create new employment opportunities and diversify fishing effort, yet retain the traditional culture of fishing and the sea within local communities.