FISHERMEN fear that lobster stocks could be on the verge of collapse after an increase in the numbers being caught and a surge in the value of the shellfish.

Boat captains operating on the east coast say that fewer lobsters are being brought to shore, with smaller specimens among the catch than in previous years.

The Scottish Government has recently introduced catch restrictions for unlicensed fishermen in a bid to keep the numbers being caught down.
But there are fears that Scottish waters could be about to see stocks collapse similar to the situation which developed in Norway in the 1970s and 1980s.

Jane McMinn, a skipper based in North Berwick, East Lothian, said : "Are we on the shoulder of the curve they experienced in Norway in the 1970s and 80s where the lobster fishery just completely collapsed?

"Nobody can actually say where we are on that, but there is concern expressed that the lobster fishery here is over fished.

"I guess we are seeing a reduction in the size of the females and the quality of the eggs that they produce is slightly poorer and the season also is a lot shorter."

Lobster are long-lived shellfish which take years to reach maturity. Only adults are eaten, meaning that any juveniles caught further hamper population numbers.

However, the price of the shellfish delicacy rose by 11 per cent in real terms last year, and now stands at £11,973 a tonne.

More than 1100 tonnes of lobster were caught in Scottish waters last year, the highest figures for four years.

Some captains are now setting up hatcheries for young lobster, which are then released in batches of a round 1,000 an effort to bolster stocks.

Fisherman Jack Dale said: "We're still catching a lot of lobsters, but we're not catching the big ones we used to catch.

"The fishing effort is up probably 200-300 per cent of what it was maybe 10-15 years ago. More boats, more creels per boat.

"It will end up that the boats have to stop and lose their income, so that's the dangerous position we are in."

Measures to protect the sustainability of shellfish stocks have come into effect this week, with fishermen without a licence being restricted to a daily limit on a number of shellfish species, which limit them to just one lobster.

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “The setting of catch limits will make it possible for the Scottish Government to  distinguish between those genuinely pursuing a hobby and those catching sufficient quantities to make it a financially viable exercise.  

"While I recognise and support the public’s right to fish, this right must be balanced with the management of commercial fishing activity and the sustainability and health of the stock.”

He added: “In recent years, fishermen have expressed increasing concern about the health of these fisheries.

The commercial fishing sector supports taking action against illegal unlicensed fishing and I hope the proposed catch limits will help tackle this issue.”