Silver Darlings: Joint project to identify herring spawning grounds on the west coast of Scotland


Historically, the Atlantic herring was a vital fish for the people of Scotland.

Once the world’s largest fishery, stocks plummeted dramatically in the 1970s after more than 150 years of shoals – particularly on Scotland’s east coast – of quays and shores being plundered, gutted and boxed.

Herring never fully recovered on the west coast of Scotland, but since 2018 large shoals have been observed spawning off Wester Ross.

Edinburgh Napier University is now leading a project working with communities and organizations on Scotland’s west coast between the Clyde and Cape Wrath, including the Hebrides, to identify and help conserve herring spawn habitat. This gives West Coast Silver Darling populations a chance to reproduce and grow again. The project is called West of Scotland Herring Hunt (WOSHH) and is funded by the William Grant Foundation.

WOSHH is launching a new website at the Gairloch Museum today. The site is the first dedicated to Scottish herring. It is a place to share knowledge about Atlantic herring in Scottish seas and to learn more about their ecological, economic and cultural importance. The public will also see a demonstration of an upcoming new citizen science tool, a web app that invites everyone to participate in “herring hunts” to report signs of spawning.

Both the website and the hunting tool were developed by staff and students from Edinburgh Napier’s School of Applied Sciences and the School of Computing, led by Professor of Marine Ecology Karen Diele, who is the head of WOSHH, and co-investigator Dr Simon Wells.

Unlike most other marine fish, the reproducing herring relies on a specific benthic (on the sea floor) spawning habitat. On the west coast of Scotland, however, knowledge of the location and status of such vital habitat is scarce.

Herring have been filmed spawning in large numbers off the coast of Wester Ross

“A healthy spawning habitat could help rebuild coastal herring populations, with potentially positive social and economic impacts, as well as improve biodiversity and ecosystem functioning,” explains Professor Diele. “WOSHH will create connections and dialogues between key stakeholders, promote co-management strategies of coastal waters and advocate for the integration of key spawning grounds into herring management.”

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Scottish fishermen play key role in sample study of western herring stocks – Dr.

dr Michelle Frost, WOSHH project coordinator, continues: “Herring are important to a wide range of species that feed on them, including not only humans but also sandeels, haddock, cod, many seabirds, bottlenose dolphins and minke whales.

“By attracting these charismatic species, herring can benefit local communities and increase wildlife tourism income.”

Herringmaids clean and salt the Silver Darlings within minutes of landing

Herring themselves feed primarily on plankton and help transport energy from the bottom of marine food webs to upper predators, which act as key species.”

Peter Cunningham, biologist at Wester Ross Fisheries Trust, says: “Herring has been so important locally and our community has now had a renewed interest in West Coast herring since we recently saw large shoals close by for the first time in almost 50 years have observed Gairloch.” .

dr Karen Buchanan, Curator of the Gairloch Museum, states: “We are delighted to add our support to the WOSHH project, which is helping to meet the urgent research needs in our region, and to host the outreach event today.”

The WOSHH project will help determine the location and status of important herring spawning areas in coastal waters on the west coast of Scotland. “The new herring hunt web app will increase the inclusivity of this project as it will allow everyone to contribute as a citizen scientist,” says Dr. wells

The latest herring survey in September 2020 revealed an abundance of one and two year old herring on the spawning grounds west of Cape Wrath.

“Herring is important to healthy, functioning Scottish seas, which provide so many benefits to humans and other species,” concludes Professor Diele. “They deserve our support so that populations can resettle where possible.”


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