Herring numbers could recover after stocks fell in 1970s, scientists hope

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Herring populations off the west coast of Scotland could recover after stocks collapsed in the 1970s, scientists hope.

Researchers at Edinburgh Napier University are urging people to record signs of herring as part of a project to help rebuild populations.

Atlantic herring formed one of the world’s largest fisheries in Scotland during the 19th and early 20th centuries, but after stocks collapsed in the 1970s, populations failed to recover and some disappeared entirely.

But, after spawning herring were detected off Wester Ross in spring 2018, hopes have been raised that spring-spawning herring populations are on their way to recovery.

Professor Karen Diele from Edinburgh Napier University’s School of Applied Sciences said: “With so many people starting to get out and about again after the long winter months, we are hoping anyone around the west coast will keep their eyes peeled for signs of the silver darlings.

Dr Michelle Frost from Edinburgh Napier University. (Edinburgh Napier University/PA)

Dr Michelle Frost, a researcher on the West of Scotland Herring Hunt project, said: “The webapp can be used by anyone throughout the year to record Atlantic herring, especially during spawning seasons.

“People may even spot egg ‘carpets’ – herring deposit their sticky eggs onto the seabed, sometimes covering several square miles. The eggs and larvae are important food for other species, such as sandeels and haddock.

“The Herring Hunt webapp was developed with our University colleagues from Computing and is very easy to use from a mobile phone or computer, taking no longer than a few minutes to report signs of herring.

“Herring deserve our attention so that they can rebuild resilient populations on the West coast where and when possible, which would boost the marine ecosystem as a whole.”

The West of Scotland Herring Hunt is funded by the William Grant Foundation, a non-profit association established to support charitable causes in Scotland. Its work is funded by William Grant and Sons Ltd.

The webapp is available here.

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