DEPLETED stocks of chip shop favourites, haddock and cod, have been given fresh hope after an underwater study revealed new insights into their behaviour.

In the Firth of Clyde, populations of cod, haddock and whiting had been almost wiped out by 2005 as a result of overfishing and other human activities.

Fish populations in these waters are now largely made up of juvenile whiting, leading ecologists to puzzle over why young whiting are doing better than cod and haddock.

Researchers from Glasgow University, working off the coast of Arran in summer 2014, embarked on an study to unravel the mystery using Stereo Baited Remote Underwater Video systems (SBRUVs) – waterproof video cameras that are baited with food to attract fish and lowered onto the seabed.

The team led by PhD student Sophie Elliott filmed hundreds of fish in their natural environment for the first time, giving a unique glimpse of juvenile cod, haddock and whiting in these coastal habitats.

Over 186 hours of footage, they were able to create a picture of the fishes' behaviour and distribution, as well as measure the size and relative abundance of each of the three species.

The research will be presented today at the British Ecological Society's annual meeting in Edinburgh.

The results reveal that cod, haddock and whiting forage in very different ways. Whiting were much more likely to approach the bait compared with haddock, while cod showed very little interest in the bait.

The footage also showed the fish were very different sizes, with the whiting being on average larger than haddock and cod, and that the juvenile whiting arrive in the coastal 'nursery' areas sooner than cod or haddock, giving them a head start.

Dr Elliott said: “The findings suggest that whiting are more opportunistic feeders than haddock or cod.

"Coupled with their larger size and the fact they get to the nursery areas earlier, this may give them a better competitive advantage and help explain why most of the fish in the Firth of Clyde are young whiting.”

She added that the underwater video cameras could also be used in other conservation schemes by helping to monitor and manage marine protected areas around the UK coast.