Marine fish and shellfish

Status of commercial fish and shellfish: No area assessment with many concerns

Status of demersal fish: Stable with few or no concerns

(Baxter et al, 2011)

Status of fish: Improving situation since 2012

Status of commercial fish and shellfish: Improving situation since 2012

Status of food webs: Improving situation since 2012

(United Kingdom Marine Monitoring & Assessment Strategy, n.d)


Marine fish and shellfish are of vital importance to the Solway, as they are to all marine areas. They are a key element of food webs, help indicate the health of a marine ecosystem, and provide socio-economic benefits through commercial and recreational fishing.

It is worth noting that there are huge amounts of data, information, advice, and guidance relating to fishing in England and Scotland available, and if readers are interested in a particular type of fish are advised to do further reading on that species and fisheries rules, for example Scotland’s Future fisheries: management strategy – 2020 to 2030. For more information on recreational sea angling on both sides of the Solway visit Solway Firth Partnership’s Recreational Sea Angling page here.

There are well over 100 species of marine fish and shellfish in the Solway with 130 species recorded in the Firth in 1993 (Potts and Swaby), some of which are of commercial importance. The focus of the discussion below is on species of commercial importance to the Solway and why the Solway is important for marine fish and shellfish. The Productive chapter of the Solway Review provides socio-economic analyses for both the Scottish and English sides of the Solway Firth for Sea Fisheries, as well as other industries which rely on the Firth and fish or shellfish species therein, such as Aquaculture, and the chain of Processing for Fisheries and Aquaculture.

Fish species can be identified as demersal or pelagic species depending on their distribution and feeding behaviours. Pelagic species are those which live and feed in the ‘pelagic zone’ of the sea, otherwise known as the water column. Pelagic fish are commonly found in shoals swimming in mid-water and undertake wide ranging seasonal movements or migrations. Pelagic species is a broad term covering a range of species of various sizes and which favour different environments, including large species such as elasmobranchs (see Shark, skates and rays), and smaller species such as mackerel (Scomber scombrus) and herring (Clupea harengus). Demersal species are those which live on, or close to the seabed. They can be further divided into two main categories, benthic (lives on the sea floor) and benthopelagic (float just above the sea floor). Most demersal species gather in late winter or spring in recognisable spawning grounds to release their tiny free-floating eggs. These hatch into larvae which feed on and move with the plankton over distances of up to several hundred kilometres before becoming tiny fish, which gather in inshore nursery grounds. Demersal species include fish such as cod (Gadus morhua) and haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus). Shellfish is a general term for fish with an exoskeleton (shell) such as molluscs or crustaceans. Stocks are uncertain for both pelagic and demersal fish, but have more certainty in terms of shellfish stocks.


Image; Boat on the Solway. © Solway Firth Partnership. Photographer; Colin Tennant

Marine fish and shellfish


UK vessels require licences from UK fishing administrations, Marine Management Organisation (MMO)/ Marine Scotland for England/Scotland respectively, in order to fish within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the UK. There are different types of licence, depending on the length of the vessel, the species fished and the waters the vessel will operate in. In Scotland ‘since 1 July 2017, licences provide a general authority to fish. Prior to that date different categories of licence specified which stocks of fish could be caught (Marine Scotland, n.d). No new licences are being issued, entitlement must be secured from a current licence holder in order to obtain a licence for the first time. Information on fishing vessel licences is available from Marine Scotland here, and the MMO here.

As of 2021, the UK has now left the EU. Fishing was a topic of extensive debate in the ‘leave’ campaign and continued to be an ongoing contentious topic during exit agreement negotiations, which has had implications for fishing activities around the UK.

There is now a UK/EU Trade Agreement in place, with a separate, external licence necessary for fishing outside of UK waters. The MMO acts as the UK Single Issuing Authority for issuing licences for the whole of the UK for fishing in non-UK waters, and foreign vessels fishing in UK waters. Information on licencing from the UK Single Issuing Authority is available here, including a list of UK approved vessels granted external licences, and EU approved vessels granted a licence to fish in the UK’s EEZ.

There are significant changes ongoing in the fisheries sector, for example the Fisheries Act 2020 being passed, providing the UK’s first major domestic fisheries legislation since 1973.

Acronyms of fisheries stocks (some ICES acronyms are explained here)
Blim Minimum limit benchmark for SSB
Bpa Biomass precautionary approach reference point
CFP Common Fisheries Policy
F Fishing mortality
FMSY Fishing mortality consistent with achieving MSY
ICES International Council for the Exploration of the Seas
MSY Maximum Sustainable Yield
MSY Btrigger A biomass reference point that triggers a cautious response within the ICES MSY Framework
NEA Northeast Atlantic
R The amount of fish added to the exploitable stock each year due to growth and/or migration into the fishing area
SSB Spawning Stock Biomass
TAC Total Allowable Catch
UWTV Underwater Television Survey


Marine fish and shellfish


As a result of Brexit, the UK is no longer part of the EU and is now an independent coastal state, and therefore no longer bound to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The CFP was designed to ensure fairness of fishing throughout the EU, giving equal access to all member states to Europe’s waters. This meant that although other member states could fish in the UK’s waters, the UK could also fish elsewhere, however the UK has both a large marine area, and productive waters, meaning the ability of the UK to fish out with our own waters is of limited benefit.

There is a helpful synopsis of some of the changes in the UK fishing industry summarised in a BBC article. There is an ongoing ‘adjustment period’ in which the ability of EU boats to fish in UK waters will reduce. EU boats can continue to fish in UK waters but the UK will get an increasing share of fish in UK waters over 2021 – 2026, after which annual negotiations will take place and the UK technically will have the ability to exclude EU fishing boats.

The UK will increase their share of fishing quota, a 25% increase of the value of the EU catch in UK waters gradually over the next 5 years.

In June 2021 the annual fisheries negotiations between the UK and EU were concluded for the remainder of 2021, with the Total Allowable Catches (TACs) being set for 70 fish stocks, and superseding provisional limits set earlier in 2021.

Some of key points taken from the Government Press Release (2021) are noted below;

  • ‘The annual negotiations for 2021, in which the UK participated as an independent coastal State outside of the Common Fisheries Policy, follow the signing of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the UK and EU.
  • The UK will have roughly £27m more quota in these 70 stocks than that which was allocated in 2020. This figure takes into account the UK’s new, larger, shares of quota under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement as well as Total Allowable Catch reductions which were made for sustainability reasons.
  • As an independent coastal State with a commitment to achieving sustainable fisheries the UK is taking a more rigorous approach to assessing MSY in relation to negotiated outcomes ‘

As a result of this agreement the UK has ~26,000 tonnes more quota compared to 2020, and interim fishing quota exchange will continue with an exchange system being established by the Specialised Committee on Fisheries.

Marine Scotland receives a portion of the UK TAC quota as defined in the UK Quota Management Rules (2021 rules available here). Information of Scottish quota management is available here.

The Secretary of State determines fishing opportunities for British fishing boats for certain stocks, including the maximum quantity of sea fish that may be caught by British fishing boats and the maximum number of days that British fishing boats may spend at sea. The most recent determination of fishing opportunities published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in April 2021 can be found here.

In 2021 the UK and Norway failed to reach an agreement on fishing, meaning there is no access to Norway’s waters for UK fisheries (BBC News, 2021). Nevertheless, setting TACs and negotiations with other countries is an important part of sustainably managing fishing, as stocks do not restrict movement to a specific country’s waters, migrating and straddling multiple jurisdictions. Tackling fishing levels on an international basis protects the UK’s stocks from being overfished.

In the EU, as part of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), an agreement was reached to include the landing obligation, otherwise known as the discard ban. Under this agreement, unwanted fish may no longer be thrown back into the sea. Instead, all fish subject to quota must be kept and landed and counted against quota. The discard ban is being introduced over a number of years, and started in 2015 with pelagic fisheries in the Baltic. As of 2021, the UK has left the European Union, however the landing obligation remains (as of Feb 2021), applied to all commercial (not recreational) fishing vessels, see; Marine Management Organisation Statutory Guidance, and Marine Scotland’s Fishing vessel landing obligation guidance 2021. Fish caught below Minimum Conservation Reference Size (MCRS) (which replaced the term ‘minimum landing size’) are included in the landing obligation.


Image; Fishing on the Solway (Smokehouse Fishing in Scotland). © Solway Firth Partnership. Photographer; Colin Tennant.

Marine fish and shellfish

In the Solway

In 1993 there were 130 species (Potts and Swaby) of fish recorded in the Solway not including the many species of shellfish which are also found here.

The majority of the fishing fleet in the Solway is involved in shellfish fishing for scallops, Nephrops, whelks, and small amounts of pelagic (e.g. herring, mackerel) and demersal (cod, whiting, plaice, sole, dogfish) fish are also landed by the local fleet. See the Sea Fisheries section of the Solway Review for a socio-economic analysis of the fishing sector in the Solway Firth.

The North Western Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authority (NWIFCA) oversees the English side of the Solway Firth, covering the marine area out to 6 nautical miles (nm). There are an additional 9 IFCAs around the English coast. IFCAs are required to manage the exploitation of sea fisheries resources, in a sustainable and balanced (socio-economic and environmental interests, different needs of fishers etc) way. Formed in 2011 (under Statutory Instrument 2200 (2010) following the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009), the NWIFCA merged the previous Cumbria Sea Fisheries Committee and North West Sea Fisheries Committee into one district.

In Scotland, Inshore Fisheries Groups (IFGs) are non-statutory bodies that aim to improve the management of Scotland’s inshore fisheries out to 6 nm and to give commercial inshore fishermen a strong voice in wider marine management developments. The West Coast Regional Inshore Fisheries Group (RIFG) covers the west coast of Scotland. Simon Macdonald is Chair of the West Coast RIFG which covers the Solway area.


Spawning and Nursery Grounds

The Solway is important for spawning and nursery grounds for a variety of fish species, including some of commercial importance. Maps of main spawning and nursery grounds for 14 commercially important species were prepared for the report ‘Coul et al 1998’. This data layer is available from the Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) here, and shows the importance of the outer Solway in particular for both spawning and nursery grounds for commercially important fish species. Solway spawning grounds are used by sprat (Sprattus sprattus), Nephrops (Nephrops norvegicus), whiting (Merlangius merlangus), herring (Clupea harengus), cod (Gadus morhua), plaice (Pleuronectes platessa), and sole (Solea solea). Within the data of all the species mapped for spawning and nursery grounds sprat is the only fish which uses the Inner Solway as spawning grounds. According to this data the Solway also has nursery grounds for Nephrops, herring, whiting, plaice, sole, cod and haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus). (Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, 1998). In particular the Solway provides important nursery areas for flatfish in the larger estuaries such as Luce Bay, Wigtown Bay and the inner Solway.

More up-to-date information was published by the DEFRA in 2010, where spawning and nursery areas of 40 species to be considered of conservation importance were mapped. The majority of the Solway is also important nursery grounds for spurdog (Squalus acanthias), and is used for nursery grounds (with low intensity) by tope (Galeorhinus galeus), thornback ray (Raja clavata) and spotted ray (Raja montagui). The DEFRA 2010 data also indicated the presence of herring larvae in the Solway, indicating spawning grounds, and reiterated the use of the Solway as high intensity nursery grounds for herring. Similarly, the Solway was, again, found to be extensively used, with varying intensities, as spawning and nursery grounds for cod, whiting, plaice, and sole.

Spawning grounds throughout the Solway were highlighted for sandeels, as well as nursery grounds in the inner Solway, both with low intensity.

Low intensity spawning and nursery grounds were recorded in the Solway for mackerel, although the majority of spawning and nursery grounds for mackerel were shown to be around the far west of the UK and west coast of Ireland. According to this data there were also low intensity nursery grounds for anglerfish in the Solway. (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, 2010).

The Solway not only provides nursery and spawning grounds, but also migratory passage for both sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) and river lamprey (Lampetra fluviatilis) both to and from spawning and nursery grounds. Both of these species of fish are features of the Solway Firth Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and qualifying interests for the SAC designation (see Protected Areas).

The Draft Sectoral Marine Plan regional locational guidance for offshore wind in Scotland also highlighted in the south west region, and draft site proposed for the Solway (the site did not progress to the final sectoral marine plan, see Energy, aggregates, subsea cables and pipelines) that ‘whilst there are a lack of data available to show available spawning sites for elasmobranch species, there are many known nursery ground areas in the area… including tope, thornback ray, spotted ray, with high-intensity nursery grounds for spurdog and neighbouring common skate nursery grounds’ (Scottish Government, 2019).

The Solway Firth Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) on the Cumbrian side of the inner Solway has been designated exclusively for the fish species European Smelt (Osmerus eperlanus). The Solway provides habitat for smelt to use before and after migration into freshwater for spawning, for feeding and post-larval development. DEFRA’s MCZ factsheet for the Solway Firth MCZ states that smelt ‘are known to congregate in large shoals in lower estuaries and migrate into freshwater where they spawn in spring. Estuaries such as the Solway Firth therefore provide critical habitats required to complete smelt lifecycles, including for feeding and post-larval development. Historically, smelt were abundant in the Solway Firth and this MCZ will help focus further research to get a better understanding of the current use of the estuary by smelt’ (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2019).

For interested readers there is a Quick ID guide for common juvenile estuarine fish by Harriet Salomonsen, available here.


Image; Smelt © N. Coombey/ Solway Firth Partnership

Marine fish and shellfish

Stock Assessments

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) conducts stock assessments, with the state of commercially relevant stocks assessed on a broader scale than the Solway. The ICES is a meeting point for more than 4000 fisheries scientists from the 20 North Atlantic countries. The Solway forms part of ICES subarea VII (7) Southern Celtic Seas, and more specifically division VIIa (7a) Irish Sea. A map of the ICES subareas and divisions of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Northeast Atlantic (fishing area 27) and Mediterranean and Black Sea (fishing area 37) is available here. For stocks which are data limited, the ICES uses a precautionary approach of reduced confidence. Despite the questions which arise from the long-term sustainability of TACs determined on the basis of this data ICES remains the best available option for deciding on TACs. ICES data is also used in Scotland to assess the percentage of fish stocks fished sustainably. This is the Scottish Sustainable Fish Indicator used for Scotland’s National Performance Framework. This indicator shows that performance is improving with 67% of fish stocks fished sustainably in Scotland in 2018.

As stated above, the Solway is entirely within ICES subarea VII, division VIIa. Division VIIa includes the entirety of the Solway Firth, the north west of England, the majority of the Welsh coast, the majority of the east coast of Northern Ireland, the east coast of Ireland and the Isle of Man. A detailed assessment of the Solway Firth itself is not currently available, although in 2020 ICES prepared an ecosystem overview for the Celtic Seas Region (the Malin Shelf; the Celtic Sea and west of Ireland; the Irish Sea) and concluded that the five most important pressures in the Celtic Seas ecoregion are selective extraction of speciesabrasionsmotheringsubstrate loss, and nutrient and organic enrichment. These pressures are as a result of human activities including; fishing, aquaculture, dredging offshore structures, agriculture and forestry, and run off from both urban and industry sources (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, 2020a).

A number of ICES main statistical areas (the smaller accounting units which make up the ICES regions) cover the Solway Firth: areas 38E4, 38E5 and 38E6. Small parts of the Solway are also in statistical area 39E4 (the mouth of Loch Ryan), 37E4 and 37E5 (small areas at the south west extent of the Solway Marine Region). A map of the ICES statistical rectangles is available from the National Marine Plan Interactive, data available here. These are further subdivided into statistical sub-rectangles.

Fish stocks are vitally important to ensuring the socio-economic activates related to catching fish can continue within environmental limits. Catching or killing too many fish is unsustainable, negatively impacting recruitment and resulting in a gradual decline of the stocks. The concept of Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) is the removal of the maximum fish possible while allowing for the regrowth of that population. The MSY can be maintained indefinitely without negatively impacting the population. MSY is often difficult to estimate given lack of data or certainty, proxies are often used.

According to Marine Scotland’s Fish and Shellfish Stocks 2015 Edition; ‘where no agreed international management plan exists, the default ICES position for stocks with full accepted assessments is to base advice on a fishing mortality (F) that is expected to generate the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) for the participating fleets: that is, the highest possible catch that can be maintained indefinitely’ (Barreto & Bailey, 2015).

It should also be noted that; ‘For each assessed stock, catch options corresponding to the formal ICES advice are provided for the following year and form the basis of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for that stock. The TAC is the total landing allowed to be taken from that stock by all fleets. For demersal fisheries in particular this approach is deficient since it disregards the fact that mixtures of ground fish, flatfish and shellfish are often caught simultaneously within a single fishery’ (Barreto & Bailey, 2015).

Different fleets target different stocks, and each catch ‘different mixes of species. Ignoring the mixed-species aspect of fisheries can mean, for example. that the quota for one species may become exhausted, but due to the continued quota availability for other species, vessels continue to fish and catch the species whose quota is exhausted. Therefore, the required constraints on fishing mortality for vulnerable species are not always operative. Alternatively, early closure of a fishery because one species needs protection could result in the loss of fishing opportunities on other stocks’ (Barreto & Bailey, 2015).


Marine fish and shellfish

Irish Sea cod

Gadus morhua 

ICES data collected from International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (2020b)

ICES Landings (2019): 295t

ICES Discards (2019): 7t

ICES advice: ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied (this was changed in 2020 from the MSY approach which had been advised for 2017, 2018 and 2019) catches in 2021 should be no more than 93t (116t with an applied uncertainty cap of (x 0.8)). ICES catches and landings of cod in the Irish sea have an overall decreasing trend (some years have increased on the previous) since 2003 when ICES advised the closure of all fisheries for cod. From 2004 to 2012 ICES advice was zero catch, changing to ‘no directed fisheries, minimize bycatch and discards’ and a corresponding catch advice of 0t from 2013 until 2016. Cod (and sole) stocks in the Irish Sea have low stock biomasses. Cod stocks in the Irish Sea have been in serious decline over many years, with ICES landings recorded in 1988 being 14,200t compared to the ICES landings in 2019, which were 295t. The lowest ICES landings recorded since 1988 were in 2016, when only 82t of cod was landed.


Cod are mature by 4 years old, but many reach maturity before this age often by age 2. Cod can live for many years but they are big enough to be caught age 1 and are fully exploited by age 2. Many fish are caught before they have the chance to spawn and less than 1/20 of fish age 1 will survive to the age of 4 (Marine Scotland Science, 2015a). This makes cod stocks vulnerable with limited recruitment.

Cod use the outer areas of the Solway as spawning and nursery grounds. Young cod produced in springtime live in the upper water layers until ~July before becoming demersal. Cod ‘on the west coast, juvenile cod during the first year of life are often found close inshore or around the entrances to sea lochs. As they grow older, they move offshore, although they appear to recruit to nearby adult areas. Cod are active feeders and around three quarters of all cod food consists of fish and crustaceans. Unusual food items are sometimes eaten: small birds, stones, coal and the occasional salmon smolt’ (Marine Scotland Science, 2015a).

In the Solway, cod are particularly common on the predominantly rocky ground well inshore between Harrington and Maryport on the Cumbrian coast during the winter months. There is a recognised spawning ground between the Scallop Bank and the deeper waters to the southeast of Burrow Head on the Dumfries and Galloway coast. Cod normally spawn in the first 4 months of the year (January – April) at which time large catches could traditionally be expected, but numbers have declined markedly in recent years. As illustrated in the Sea Fisheries section of the Solway Review, shellfish make up the vast majority of landings on both the Scottish and English side of the Solway. There are more demersal landings on the English Solway coast, with 152t landed in 2018 compared to 1t landed on the Scottish Solway. However not only is this a fraction of the shellfish landings on the English Solway, which were 1,595t the same year, but it is a reduction of 40% compared to demersal landings in 2013 (255t). For more information see the Sea Fisheries section within the Productive chapter of the Solway Review.

Irish Sea cod stocks are depleted. Landings fell rapidly during the 1980s and 1990s with stocks being assessed as suffering reduced reproductive capacity between 2009 and 2015.

The MMO outlines that, ‘historically, the fishing rate has been very high, spawning stocks have fallen below both the precautionary and the lower limit level, and the abundance of young cod has been in decline since 1990. After 2000, the EU significantly reduced the cod TAC, closed the spawning area in the western Irish Sea during the spawning season, and increased the main whitefish mesh size to 100mm’ (Marine Management Organisation, 2019).

The UK allocation for cod in the Irish Sea for 2021 is 91t, but this is exclusively by-catch, the UK allocation does not permit directed fisheries (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2021). Minimum Conservation Reference Size (MCRS) for cod in UK waters is 35cm.


Image; The side of a fishing vessel. © Solway Firth Partnership. Photographer; Colin Tennant

Marine fish and shellfish


Pleuronectes platessa

ICES data collected from International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (2020e)

ICES Landings in 2019: 465t

ICES Discards in 2019: 537t (322t dead discards, 215t live discards)

ICES advice: ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in 2021 should be no more than 2,846t.
The fishing rate on Irish Sea plaice has shown a declining trend since the early 1990s and the SSB trends show an increase in stock size since the mid-1990s, and is now much higher than the MSYBtrigger. Discards are now included in the ICES assessment and discard sampling studies have indicated that discarding may be as high as 80% by number.


The coastal areas of the Solway Firth are used by plaice as a nursery ground, spawning in the early months of the year (January – March) in the western outer Solway, particularly in the area between the Machars, Ross and St Bees Head.

Plaice are the most common commercially caught flat fish to be found in the Solway. They usually migrate into inshore waters, preferring soft muddy bottoms, towards the end of March, becoming widespread throughout the area during the summer and autumn. Plaice feed on a variety of worms and small shellfish (mainly mussels and tellins) and there are several known nursery grounds where large amounts of immature fish can be found, particularly during spring and early summer.

The UK allocation for plaice in the Irish Sea in 2021 is 1,455t (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2021). MCRS for plaice in UK waters is 27cm. There is an inherited Cumbria Sea Fisheries Committee Byelaw (byelaw 20) on minimum mesh sizes for the protection of immature plaice, which applies to part of the Solway Firth between ~Maryport and Whitehaven. More information on NWIFCA plaice fisheries management is available here.


Image; Plaice © N. Coombey/ Solway Firth Partnership

Marine fish and shellfish


Solea solea

ICES data collected from International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (2020f)

ICES Landings in 2019: 400t

ICES Discards in 2019: 63t

ICES adviceICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in 2021 should be no more than 768t.
Landings and discards for sole in the Irish Sea increased significantly in 2019 with 400t of Sole recorded as ICES landings, the highest landings since 2007(492t) and significantly more that the 36t landed in 2018. Similarly there was an increase in ICES discards which were recorded as 63t in 2019, compared to 2t the year before.
Spawning-stock biomass (SSB) for sole has been below, or extremely close to, the MSY Btrigger since 1991 (with the exception of 1994) and, overall, has been decreasing in the Irish sea since the early 2000’s. SSB began to steadily increase again in 2015, with fluctuations. The catch advice for 2021 has increased compared to the advice for 2020 due to a further increase in stock size, with the SSB now slightly above Maximum sustainable yield (MSY) Btrigger.


Sole are flatfish which prefer sandy and muddy bottom estuarine habitat but spend the winter offshore in deep waters. They start migrating inshore during April, when mature fish (3 – 5 years) will be found in the spawning grounds around Scallop Bank. The fish remain here until the late autumn feeding almost exclusively on worms on the soft muddy seabed, primarily feeding during the night. Coastal habitats on both sides of the Solway are nursery grounds, with juveniles migrating into deeper water after remaining in nurseries for 2 – 3 years.

The UK allocation for sole in the Irish Sea in 2021 is 176t (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2021). The MCRS for in UK waters for sole (Solea sp.) 24cm.

Marine fish and shellfish


Scomber scombrus

ICES data collected from International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (2020c) – ICES data for mackerel covers subareas 1–8 and 14, and in Division 9.a (the Northeast Atlantic and adjacent waters) combined Southern, Western and North Sea components.

Subarea 7 (and divisions 8a, 8b, 8d and 8e) – Landings/catch in 2019; 33,118t/ 39,020t.

Subarea 7 (and divisions 8a, 8b, 8d and 8e) – Discards in 2019; 5,902t

ICES advice: ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in 2021 should be no more than 852,284t.
The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) is estimated to have increased since 2007, reaching a maximum in 2014, and has been declining since then. It has, however, remained above MSY Btrigger since 2008. The fishing mortality (F) has declined since 2003, and is estimated to have been below FMSY since 2016. There has been a succession of large year classes since 2001, with year classes since 2011 estimated to be above average. ICES assesses that fishing pressure on the stock is below FMSY, and spawning-stock size is above MSY Btrigger, Bpa, and Blim.
Mackerel is assessed as the single North East Atlantic (NEA) stock, which combines the Southern, Western and North Sea spawning components. SSB has increased considerably since the early 2000s, it has fallen in recent years but remains high above MSY Btrigger.


According to Barreto and Bailey (2015), the ‘western mackerel stock is found near to the continental slope, over a vast area.’ Spawning peaks around May and June, when large shoals can be seen in the Solway feeding on smaller fish. Most spent fish move feeding grounds after spawning is finished. These feeding grounds are in the Norwegian sea and North Sea with western stock mackerel migrating over a large distance between feeding grounds and spawning areas. Most of the mackerel landed in the Solway is caught beyond the Solway in the Irish sea.

Female mackerel mature between the age of 1 and 3. By the age of 3 the majority of female mackerel can spawn, shedding ‘their eggs in about 20 separate batches over the course of a spawning season. An average-sized fish produces around 250,000 eggs. Juvenile mackerel grow quickly and can reach 22cm after one year and 30cm after two years’ (Barreto and Bailey, 2015).

Mackerel diets consist of roughly half crustacea and half juvenile fish, but can be variable depending on the prey available through factors such as season and location.

The UK allocation for mackerel in the ICES areas 6, 7, 8a, 8b, 8d and 8e; United Kingdom and international waters of 5b; international waters of 2a, 12 and 14, in 2021 is 220,606 t (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2021). The Solway is part of area 7a and is included in these western waters, but only forms a small portion. The MCRS for in UK waters for mackerel (Scomber spp.) is 20cm.

Marine fish and shellfish


Merlangius merlangus

ICES data collected from International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (2021) – ICES data for Division 7.a (Irish Sea)

ICES landings (2020): 88t

Discards (2020): 1039t

ICES advice: ICES advises that when the MSY approach and precautionary considerations are applied, there should be zero catches in 2022 and 2023. The agreed TAC for 2021 is 721t.


Whiting occurs most commonly during the winter months. As large parts of the Solway are fairly shallow and therefore warmer than the offshore waters, it requires periods of cold, calm weather before whiting will gather in the shoals needed for substantial catches. Whiting feed on worms, shrimps, crustacea, small fish and even other whiting. They spawn in the late spring.

The UK allocation for whiting in the Irish Sea (ICES area VIIa) in 2021 is 416t, but this is exclusively for bycatch, with no directed fisheries permitted under the UK allocation (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2021). The MCRS for whiting in UK waters is 27mm.

Marine fish and shellfish


Nephrops norvegicus

ICES data collected from International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (2020d) ICES data is divided into Functional Units (FU) for Nephrops data. Relevant data for the Solway is in theIrish Sea East’ (Functional Unit 14) which encompasses the Solway, bar the west coast of the Rhins and Loch Ryan, to the north Wales coastline

UWTV Stock abundance estimate (millions) in 2020: 496

ICES landings (2019): 270t

Total discards (2019) (dead and surviving): 15t

ICES advice: ICES advises that when the EU multiannual plan (MAP) for Western Waters and adjacent waters is applied, catches in 2021 that correspond to the F ranges in the MAP are between 871t and 1053t, assuming recent discard rates. The entire range is considered precautionary when applying the ICES advice rule.
To ensure that the stock in FU 14 is exploited sustainably, management should be implemented at the Functional Unit level.
The harvest rate has been well below FMSY for more than a decade, since 2009, and has generally declined since 2014, despite increases in 2016 and 2019. There is no reliable data for harvests in 2010-2012 as there was insufficient sampling, however the harvest rate in 2009 and 2013 was around 6% (5.7% and 6% respectively) and as the FMSY is 11%, it seems reasonable to assume that the harvest rate is unlikely to have exceeded the FMSY in 2010-2012. The stock abundance has been fluctuating above MSY Btrigger since 2010. The average weight in projected landings from 2017-2019 is 20.43 grammes, whereas for discards is 9.23 grammes.
Stock abundance of Nephrops is assessed with Underwater TV survey (UWTV) in addition to catch data as Nephrops cannot be aged directly. UWTV allows a density assessment of burrows and, in turn, and index of abundance.


Also known as the Dublin Bay prawn or Norwegian lobster, Nephrops represent one of the most important components of commercial fish landings at Whitehaven.

Nephrops construct burrows, in which they spend most of their time, therefore distribution is limited by the extent of suitable muddy sediment. The Solway is part of the Eastern Irish Sea Mud Belt, which covers an area in the Solway including Wigtown Bay to the Rough Firth, and across the Solway around Workington past St Bees Head. The habitat in this area (and the mud belt beyond the Solway) is ideal for Nephrops making it important fishing grounds for the species. One of the two reasons Nephrops leave their burrow is to feed. They primarily feed on crustaceans, molluscs and polychaete worms, and are opportunistic predators. The other reason is to mate, with female Nephrops reproducing annually (egg hatch ~April/May) after they reach maturity (~age 3). The larvae develop in the plankton before settling to the seabed 6-8 weeks later.

The location of Nephrops impacts their size and stocks, with sediment type and density of animals impacting the speed at which they grow and mature. According to Marine Scotland Science in ‘the softest mud, Nephrops densities are low, but the animals grow relatively fast, and reach a larger maximum size. The largest animals are colloquially referred to as clonkers. On sandier mud, Nephrops density is much higher, but the animals grow relatively slowly, and are smaller (‘beetles’)’ (Marine Scotland Science, 2015a).

Compared to other FUs, the density of Nephrops is considered medium (~0.47 burrow m−2, average 2011–2019) in the east of the Irish Sea (FU 14). Some biological parameters are poorly known, and the sampling levels in the recent past have been low and variable. Harvest rate estimates have been below F0.1 for combined sexes. Based on these considerations, ICES considers that F0.1 is a suitable FMSY proxy for this stock (International Council for Exploration of the Sea, 2015).

EU TAC for Nephrops covers the entire subarea VII and has grown from 21,619t in 2015 to 29,091t in 2018, however the TAC fell considerably in 2019 to 19,784t (Marine Scotland, 2019). The UK allocation for Nephrops in 2021 is 6,908t in subarea VII (Southern Celtic Seas) a much larger area than the Solway, and with a limited take in Functional Unit (FU) 16 within subarea VII (the Solway does not form part of FU 16) (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2021).

The MCRS for Nephrops in ICES VIIa (Irish Sea) is total length 70 mm, carapace length 20 mm, tail 37mm.


Marine fish and shellfish

European Lobster

Homarus gammarus

The taking of lobsters is widespread, occurring well inshore around the more exposed and rocky parts of the Cumbrian and Dumfries & Galloway coasts. The season is generally from April to October when creels, or pots as they are known in England, are set well inshore between Whitehaven and Allonby Bay on the Cumbrian coast, and between the Mull of Galloway and Balcary Point, including Luce Bay and Wigtown Bay, on the Scottish side. Lobsters form a valuable part of landings on both the Scottish and English Solway. In 2018 the value of lobster landings in the English Solway was £134,000, significantly increased from the value landed in 2013, £29,000. Scottish Solway landings of lobster in 2018 were worth £717,000, again increasing from the 2013 value of £434,000.

This fishery is mainly regulated by Minimum Landing Sizes. Insufficient data from sampling of landings means that analytical stock assessments have not been undertaken for the Solway Firth region.

Minimum landing size for Homarus gammarus is variable throughout Scotland for males. In 2018 the minimum landing size for male lobsters was established as 88mm carapace length for the entire coast of Scotland with the exception of the Solway, rising to 90mm in 2019. This means 90mm is the minimum landing size for lobsters around most of Scotland. The Solway has a minimum landing size of 87mm for males, and a maximum landing size of 145mm carapace length for females (which is the same for the whole of Scotland with the exception of Shetland and Orkney), maps are available here. There was consultation prior to these new management measures in 2016 where Solway Firth respondents (and respondents from the east coast) opposed the increased minimum landing size for male lobsters. The UK MCRS for lobster (which must be landed whole) is 87mm, this size is reiterated on the NWIFCA), making 87mm the minimum catch size across the whole Solway. More information on lobsters and how fishing is managed in the NWIFCA District is available here.

There is an inherited Cumbria Sea Fisheries Committee Byelaw (byelaw 26) meaning a permit is required to fish for lobster (Homarus gammarus), crab (Cancer pagurus), or whelk (Buccinum undatum) within the Cumbrian Solway. The Lake District Coast Aquarium in Maryport has a lobster hatchery in which berried lobsters are kept until eggs can be removed and the lobsters returned. The eggs are kept in aquarium tanks until the larval stages are complete, returning juveniles to the sea. The hatchery provides a valuable educational tool as well as helping lobsters develop past vulnerable stages.

The predecessor to the West Coast RIFG, the South West IFG ran two projects in the Solway in 2015: a trial introduction of creel escape panels and a lobster v-notching scoping studyLeaflet on Creel Fishery Study. The projects were aimed at conserving valuable commercial stocks to ensure the long term sustainability of the local crab and lobster fisheries. Enabled by IFG project funding, the projects were taken forward in a partnership between local creel fishermen, scientists and Solway Firth Partnership.

Creel escape panels are used in other parts of the UK and abroad and are designed to allow juvenile crab and lobster to escape unharmed. The measure also reduces the time it takes to clear pots so has benefits for both stock conservation and the working practice of fishermen.

Because female lobsters are not berried (egg bearing) all year round it’s not always possible to distinguish breeding stock.  A scoping study was also carried out in the Solway to explore the potential for v-notching which is a way of harmlessly marking breeding lobsters by cutting a notch in the tail. Landing v-notched lobsters is prohibited and the notch can take several years to grow out. As female lobsters can produce between 10 and 15 thousand eggs, protecting breeding stock is also protecting the future of the fishery.

Dr Peter Duncan and Dr Bryony Pearce worked alongside Galloway Static Gear Fishermen’s Association and Solway Firth Partnership on project implementation which included a series of presentations on creel fishery management options.


Image; Lobsters. © Solway Firth Partnership. Photographer; Colin Tennant

Marine fish and shellfish

Edible Crab

Cancer pagurus

Edible crabs have a thick oval shell and are brown with black claw tips, which is why it is also known as the ‘brown crab’. They are active predators found between the intertidal zone and subtidal zone down to depths around 100m. They have variable growth rates, depending on their gender, age, environment and food, maturing at around 11cm and mating in the spring/summer. Juveniles move to subtidal areas after remaining in the intertidal area until they reach 6-7cm carapace width (~3 years). Edible crabs have a hard shell which does not grow with them, instead they need to shed their shell in a process called moulting. Once crabs have shed their shell they are soft and vulnerable until a new shell grows and hardens.

The edible crab is more widespread than the lobster and is found in similar areas, but there is no directed fishery in the Firth. However, a significant number are landed as bycatch. The main regulatory mechanism for crab fishing is MCRS, although fishing effort for crabs and scallops is managed in ICES area VII, including the Solway through the ‘Western Waters Days at Sea scheme’. According to the MMO; ‘It was decided that days at sea limits will be set for vessels operating in this area for the full 2021 year. This will be enforced via a licence variation. The limit set out… will be applicable to all over 15 metre vessels with a shellfish entitlement operating in area VII and targeting crabs under the Western Waters regime…If the UK looks like it will exceed effort limits prior to 31 December 2021 as set by the MMO, then fisheries administrations will be required to close the area VII crab fishery to over 15 metre vessels for the remainder of the year in line with the Western Waters regime’ (Marine Management Organisation, 2021). More information is available here.

Insufficient data from sampling of landings means that analytical stock assessments have not been undertaken for the Solway Firth region.

There is an inherited Cumbria Sea Fisheries Committee Byelaw (byelaw 26) meaning a permit is required to fish for lobster (Homarus gammarus), crab (Cancer pagurus), or whelk (Buccinum undatum) within the Cumbrian Solway. MCRS for edible crab in the NWIFCA district is 130mm. New landing controls came into effect in Scotland in 2019. The minimum landing size for edible crab in Scotland is 150mm across the width of the carapace.


Image; Edible crab. © N. Coombey/ Solway Firth Partnership

Marine fish and shellfish

Velvet Crab

Necora puber/ Liocarcinus puber

Velvet crab, also known as ‘velvet swimming crab’ and ‘devil crab’, has become as increasingly popular fishery in the Solway Firth as fishers look to diversify their catch to compensate for the loss of other reduced stocks. This species of crab is covered in short hairs, has bright red eyes and is fast moving helping them capture prey like fish in addition to slower prey. This fishery is mainly regulated by MCRS. Insufficient data from sampling of landings means that analytical stock assessments have not been undertaken for the Solway Firth region.

MCRS for velvet crab in the NWIFCA district is 65mm. New landing controls came into effect in Scotland in 2019. The minimum landing size for velvet crab in Scotland is 70mm at the widest part of the carapace, indicative maps are available here.


Image; Velvet crab. © N. Coombey/ Solway Firth Partnership.

Marine fish and shellfish

Shrimp/ Brown Shrimp

Crangon crangon

While shrimps are found on most of the inshore fishing grounds of the Solway Firth on sandy and muddy bottoms, the key fishing areas are in the upper Solway, east of a line drawn between Hestan Island on the Dumfries and Galloway coast and Allonby Bay in Cumbria. Shrimps are also a key part of the Solway food web, providing prey in the Firth.

Brown Shrimp fisheries are seasonal and form a small part of landings in the English Solway ranging significantly in landings value each year. In 2018 the value of brown shrimp landings in the English Solway was £106,000.

Shrimps can tolerate a wide temperature range, and therefore spawn either in summer or winter. They feed on anything edible, including worms, young fish, small crustaceans, plants and organic debris. The shrimps are found in high densities in narrow channels at low tide.

Insufficient data from sampling of landings means that analytical stock assessments have not been undertaken for the Solway Firth region. There is no MCRS for shrimp provided in the UK statutory guidance on MCRSs in UK waters, ‘however catches must be riddled to comply with minimum marketable sizes (total length: above 46 mm for females and above 48 mm for males)’ (North Western Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authority, n.d.). NWIFCA byelaws are available here, including the Cumbria Sea Fisheries Committee inherited byelaw 14 on Shrimps and Prawns. More information on shrimp and fisheries management of shrimp in the NWIFCA district is available here.


Image; Shrimp. ©  N. Coombey/ Solway Firth Partnership.

Marine fish and shellfish


Cerastoderma edule 

Cockles occur along the Solway coast in a variety of conditions; from soft mud to stony gravel but are most abundant on the intertidal flats of the large estuaries. They normally live just below the surface of the sand and feed by drawing water in through siphons, which filter out all the microscopic plants and animals. The major spawning period is the spring, although spawning may continue throughout the summer and autumn. The resulting spat tends to settle in areas of fine mud above the low to mid shoreline.

The harvesting of cockles was significant in the 1980’s and 1990’s, which affected the stock and associated intertidal biodiversity. Cockle fisheries in the Scottish Solway Firth were closed in 2011 under the Inshore Fishing (Prohibition of Fishing for Cockles) (Solway Firth) (Scotland) Order 2011, to allow recovery. This closure followed a five-year Solway Firth Regulating Order (2006-2011) managed by the Solway Shellfish Management Association (dissolved 2017). This closure was due to concerns over the sustainability of the species in the region, having been commercially harvested since 1987. There is a potential opportunity to reopen the cockle fishery. However, a 2014 study (The Solway Cockle Fishery Management Study) identified challenges due the inconsistent quality of the cockles and restricted demand (Marine Scotland Science, 2015b).

In 2015 a survey was conducted of Scottish Solway Firth Cockle grounds, to update stock information (Dickens et al, 2016). The survey looked at the following cockle grounds; Barnhourie, North Bank, Carsethorn, Auchencairn Bay, Orchardton Bay, Glenisle & Rough Island, Wigtown Bay, Fleet Bay and Arbigland. These were the grounds used by cockle fishers in the 1990’s, and helps to illustrate the thriving cockle fishing industry which once flourished in the Solway. In 2015 the overall cockle biomass estimate for all the grounds was 13,366t, less than the 14,242t estimated in the previous survey, conducted in 2013. However, the biomass density was slightly higher in 2015 than 2013. Most of the biomass resided in the larger grounds (North Bank and Barnhourie) and there was also evidence of stock increase at North Bank (Dickens et al, 2016).

Cockles are not only important from a socio-economic perspective in the Solway, but also play an important role in the ecosystem and food webs in the Firth. Conservation in the Solway includes a large Special Protection Area (SPA) which has been extended and now covers the majority of the Solway (see Protected Areas). Data presented in Dickens et al (2016) was passed to NatureScot in order to model shorebird feeding requirements in the inner Solway. This model included all sites apart from Fleet and Wigtown, and concluded that surplus stocks were insufficient to support commercial fishing for cockles in 2015/2016 (Dickens et al, 2016).

According to the North Western Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (NWIFCA) the three cockle beds on the English Solway: Middle Bank Cockle Bed, Beckfoot Cockle Bed and Cardurnock Flats Cockle Bed, are currently closed under NWIFCA Byelaw 3 Paragraph 12 due to low stocks. There have been several calls to reopen the fishery but it remains closed at present. For more information on cockle fishing in the Solway see the Sea Fisheries section of the Solway Review, within the Productive chapter.

There was broad agreement amongst stakeholders that there is a potential opportunity to reopen the cockle fishery in the future, however, Middle Bank Cockle Bed was surveyed with an industry suction dredge in 2017 but there was not sufficient stock to permit harvesting. NWIFCA had plans in place to conduct a survey by hand in 2020 to gauge whether stocks have recovered enough to permit commercial harvesting.


Image; Cockle Shell. ©  N. Coombey/ Solway Firth Partnership.

Marine fish and shellfish


Mytilus edulis

Mussels are the most common form of bivalve found in the Solway area and can be found in scattered areas along the Solway Firth but most notably at Beckfoot and Dubmill (see Intertidal rocks & sediments and Shallow and shelf subtidal sediments). Spawning usually takes place in late spring, when the “spat” floats in the plankton layer, before settling in new areas. Mussel fishing increased in the late 1980s but production varies from year to year, depending mainly upon the quality of the spatfall. The Silloth channel is known to have very high densities of blue mussels, with Axelsson et al (2006) recording 10,500 individuals per 0.1 m². According to a 1997 report from Scottish Natural Heritage (now NatureScot), the Solway was the location in Scotland most reported to feature ‘transient populations’ of mussels. Due to the mobile nature of sediments in the Solway there is the potential for blue mussel beds to establish in an area and then be displaced. Elsewhere beds tend to become established with locations remaining consistent over long periods (McKay & Fowler, 1997).

There is no commercial harvesting of mussels in the Scottish Solway. The English Solway mussel bed currently has a limited stock available and mussels can be landed if above the MCRS of 45mm at the longest part of the shell. Refer to the NWIFCA website for further information. Information on current mussel beds and restrictions are available hereInsufficient data from sampling of landings means that analytical stock assessments have not been undertaken for the Solway Firth region.


Image; Mussels. ©  N. Coombey/ Solway Firth Partnership.

Marine fish and shellfish

Native Oyster

Ostrea edulis

Native oysters are commercially exploited in Loch Ryan, by the Loch Ryan Oyster Fishery Company Ltd, at one of the UK’s largest native oyster beds (see Aquaculture). The oyster rights in Loch Ryan have been with the Wallace family since 1701. They are an important socio-economic resource for the local area although there are also opportunities to expand this. For example, oysters are provided for the annual Stranraer Oyster Festival (see Sport, Recreation and Tourism).

Native oysters in Loch Ryan are generally found in shallow waters, and fished by dredging from the seabed from hard bottomed areas on the east side of the Loch, near Lefnoll Point, also see the shallow and shelf subtidal sediments section of the Solway Review. Oysters are hand graded by the fishery, and the smaller ones are densely re-laid into marked beds for future harvest.


Image; Native Oysters © Solway Firth Partnership. Photographer; Colin Tennant.

Marine fish and shellfish


King, Pecten maxmimus and queen, Aequipecten opercularis scallops

Both king scallops and the smaller ‘queenies’ are abundant on the western side of the Solway in Luce Bay and off Burrow Head. The ground is much firmer than to the east, consisting of hard sand, gravel and maerl, which especially suit the queen scallops. King and queen scallops are a large part of the landings in the Solway Firth, most significantly at Kirkcudbright harbour. The mobility of scallops is limited and therefore they are susceptible to overfishing.

Isle of Man waters are known to be popular during the 8-month long scallop fishing season, providing higher catch rates than other waters. The Isle of Man specified ‘a Total Allowable Catch of 2049t of king scallops has been set for the season, which runs from 1 November 2020 to 31 May 2021, with a daily catch limit per vessel set at 700kg. This will be monitored and reviewed regularly following the latest market conditions’ (The Fishing Daily, 2020).

According to Dobby et al (2017), the Irish Sea scallop fishery ‘began in the 1970s and landings into Scotland steadily increased to a peak of 1,461 t in 2010 [although 1,522 t of scallops were landed in the Scottish Solway in 2010 according to a custom data request from Marine Scotland reported in Sea Fisheries]. Landings into Scotland have decreased since then, but those from the Irish Sea assessment area, have increased with the 2016 landings (5,480 t) being the highest in the time series. The majority are landed into ports outside Scotland with a large proportion taken by non-Scottish vessels. At various times of the year approximately 18 large (14-24 m in length) nomadic Scottish vessels fish the Irish Sea particularly in Luce Bay (seasonally), the scallop grounds off Burrow Head and around the Isle of Man. These vessels normally land at Kirkudbright, Stranraer or the Isle of Whithorn’.

Insufficient data from sampling of landings means that analytical stock assessments have not been undertaken for the Solway Firth region. A collaborative programme of work (UK and Isle of Man) to cover sampling and stock monitoring is required to improve the basis for assessment and advice in this area.

There are MCRS set for scallops of 100mm and queen scallops of 40mm. In most Scottish waters the minimum size for scallops is increased to 105mm as per The Regulation of Scallop Fishing (Scotland) Order 2017. However, in the Solway minimum catch size for scallops is slightly larger, 110mm, given that in the Irish Sea south of 55°N the minimum catch size for scallops is 110mm. Both the general 105mm measurement and the increased 110 mm measurement are provided for in Article 3 of The Regulation of Scallop Fishing (Scotland) Order 2017. Throughout the Solway the MCRS for King scallops is 110mm, and for Queen scallops is 40mm.

Currently, there is no catch limit on UK scallop fisheries; instead they are mostly managed by MCRS, restrictions on dredge numbers and seasonal closures in some areas. Fishing effort for crabs and scallops (king and queen) is also managed in ICES area VII, including the Solway, for vessels over 15 metres through the Western Waters Days and Sea scheme. According to the MMO the allocation of days from 1st April until 30th June 2021 for western water scallops is 55 days. More information is available here.

In Scotland, concerns over the health of the queen scallop stock have led to a re-assessment of these controls, with most consultees backing an increase in the minimum size and the introduction of a seasonal closure of the fishing grounds (Marine Scotland, 2017a). The seasonal closure was introduced in 2018, but as yet there has been no change in minimum catch size.


Image; Queen scallop. © Solway Firth Partnership

Marine fish and shellfish

Other species of note

Additional ICES advice;

There is also a list of those stocks in the Celtic Seas ecoregion in 2020 that do not have a full set of reference points, provided in Annex A2 of ICES Fisheries Overview for the Celtic Seas ecoregion, available here.


Common periwinkles (Littorina littorea) are hand gathered in the Solway from the intertidal zone. Winkles reach maturity when the shell width reaches 10-12mmWinkles are an omnivorous, grazing, intertidal gastropod. NWIFCA byelaws are available here, including the Cumbria Sea Fisheries Committee inherited Byelaw 7 on the methods of fishing and minimum size of winkles (Littorina littorea). This byelaw only permits hand gathering winkles, and only those which will not pass through a 16mm squared gauge.

Whelks (Buccinum undatum) are carnivorous gastropod molluscs found throughout the Solway. Fishing effort has increased in recent years due to demand from a continental market. Landings data show that whelks are one of the most landed species across both the Scottish and English Solway in recent years with catch, overall, increasing. The height of the shell reaches 10cm and the width, 6cm. Whelks are found on sediment in the sublittoral zone, where they consume bivalves. The MCRS for whelks in UK waters is 45mm. There is an inherited Cumbria Sea Fisheries Committee Byelaw (byelaw 26) meaning a permit is required to fish for lobster (Homarus gammarus), crab (Cancer pagurus), or whelk (Buccinum undatum) within the Cumbrian Solway. More information on NWIFCA whelk fisheries management is available here.

Haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus) are only found in the deeper waters to the north and west of the Firth, and even there only in small quantities. The area off Whitehaven to St Bees Head forms part of their nursery grounds. Haddock prefer a hard coarse sandy type of ground, where they feed on brittlestars, worms and molluscs. Haddock are recognised by the black lateral line and distinctive dark blotch above the pectoral fin and range in adult size generally between 38-69cm. The UK allocation for haddock in the Irish Sea (ICES division VIIa) in 2021 is 1,779t (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2021). The MCRS for haddock in UK waters is 30cm.

Pollack (Pollachius pollachius) is more widely distributed around the Solway than haddock, inhabiting rough rocky ground and wrecks, and is recognised as a good sporting fish. Pollack feed on small crustacea, smaller members of the cod family and sandeels and can grow up to 105cm.  The UK allocation for pollack in ICES area VII in 2021 is 1,871t (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2021). The MCRS for pollack in UK waters is 30cm.

There is no directed fishery for demersal lemon sole (Microstomus kitt)brill (Scophthalmus rhombus) and turbot (Scophthalmus maximus) but small amounts of all three species are regularly landed as a bycatch from trawlers working the grounds of the Firth. Lemon sole is a right-eyed flatfish, reaching 65cm and lives on rocky seabeds. Brill is a brown speckled, left-eyed flatfish, reaching 75cm and has a frilly appearance, as part of the dorsal fin is not connected to the fin membrane.  Brill and turbot are related and often confused as the two can interbreed. Turbot is a left-eyed disc-shaped flatfish that can grow up to 100cm and lives in sandy, shallow waters.

Both dab (Limanda limanda) and flounder (Platichthys flesus) are common throughout the Solway, with the flounder being particularly common in the upper Solway. Both are right-eyed flatfish similar in a brown speckled appearance. Adults range between 25-50cm and eat worms, molluscs, sandeels and crustaceans.

Herring (Clupea harnegus) are present throughout the Solway and also use the area as a nursery ground. Adult herring mature at age 3-4 and migrate vast distances to feed, spawn and overwinter. Herring grow up to 45cm and feed on copepods, krill and small fish. The MCRS for herring in UK waters is 20cm.

The thornback ray (Raja clavata) is very common and is regularly caught in most parts of the Solway. During the spring, mature females (>9 years), move into shallow water to lay their egg capsules. Thornback ray egg cases, known as ‘mermaid’s purse’, are often found washed up along the Solway coast. It is at this time when many of these large breeding fish are caught on the hard ground between Workington and Allonby Bay off the Cumbrian coast. Thornback rays are vulnerable to overfishing due to their slow growth rate, as stocks take a long time to replenish. Rays feed on small fish such as sprats, herring and sandeels, as well as brown shrimp and small crabs. Thornbacks can grow up to 100cm. Certain skates and rays, including the thornback ray, are grouped for quota allocation. The UK allocation for 2021 for skates and rays in ICES areas; 6a, 6b, 7a-c and 7e-k is 2,503t (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2021). There is also an inherited Cumbria Sea Fisheries Committee Byelaw (byelaw 9) relevant to the landing of skates and rays. Under this byelaw, unless the landing obligation requires otherwise, there is a minimum landing size of 45cm between the extreme tips of the wings, and a minimum wing size of 22cm. More information on NWIFCA fisheries management is available here.

A species of spurdog shark, the spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias) are summer visitors to the Solway. They are particularly common on the grounds between Burrow Head and the Mull of GallowaySpiny dogfish gather in large shoals following and feeding on schooling fish such as sandeels and herring. Spiny dogfish have two spines, which are used defensively. The shark arches its back to pierce its captor and has venomous glands at the base of its spine. Males mature at age 11 reaching 80-100cm, whilst females mature at age 18-21, reaching 98.5-159cm. For more information see the Shark Skates and Rays section. The UK allocation for 2021 for spurdog in ICES areas; 6, 7 and 8; United Kingdom and international waters of 5; international waters of 1, 12 and 14 is 115t (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2021). However, this is a bycatch allowance and spurdog are not to be targeted in these areas.

Grey mullet (Chelon labrosus), a common fish in estuaries, creeks and river inlets, moves in and out with the tides to feed. The grey mullet is particularly common in the summer months, and due to its increasing market value it has started to be fished commercially in recent years. Grey mullet feed by taking mouthfuls of mud off the seabed and digesting all the living and dead material in it.

Salmon (Salmo salar) and sea trout (Salmo trutta) are fished in the rivers which drain into the Solway such as the River Annan, Nith, Border Esk, and River Eden. These used to be thriving stocks which have seen significant decline in recent years, and seen diminishing catch. Salmon and trout controls are in force throughout Scotland, England and within the Solway Firth. Even for recreational fishing these species are protected by law and salmon and sea trout must be returned unless fishermen are licensed. Controls on salmon and trout fishing have a huge impact on the traditional form of fishing ‘Haaf netting’. For more information of Haaf net fishing see the Sea Fisheries section of the Solway Review. A 2018 report from the Environment Agency outlines the state of both salmon and sea trout stocks in the Border Esk and Eden rivers in the inner Solway, available here. The River Eden, upstream of the Solway, is also designated as a Special Area of Conservation, for which the presence of salmon (in addition to sea and river lamprey) was a primary feature for this designation. In Scotland’s Marine Assessment concluded that; ‘the number of Atlantic salmon returning to Scottish coastal waters has declined over the last 50 years. This is not associated with a reduction in salmon leaving rivers and would appear to be driven by increased at-sea mortality. Previously declines in coastal returns were compensated for by reductions in commercial net fisheries and by rod fisheries adopting catch and release. However, this buffering capacity has now been fully utilised and post 2011 this decline has had an impact on the estimated number of salmon spawning in Scottish rivers. A reduction in the size of returning salmon, and therefore egg production, has further exacerbated these declines… The best available evidence suggests the overall sea trout stock is at its lowest level since 1952. There is evidence of an overall decline over the past 20 years. Examination on a finer scale shows declines are spread throughout the country’ (Moffat et al, 2020).

Sandeel (Ammodytes spp.) is not a true eel but although large shoals can be seen close to the shore’s edge they are not fished commerciallySandeels provide food for herring and mackerel and many sea birds.

Sprat (Sprattus sprattus) are present in high numbers throughout the Firth but are not fished commerciallySprat reach 15cm in length and feed on fish larvae and plankton.

Allis shad (Alosa alosa) and twaite shad (Alosa fallax) migrate to freshwater to spawn, but are otherwise marine fish as adults, and are known to be present in the Solway. Hybrids between the two species are known to occur in the Solway. Both are protected with partial protection under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) which regulates how they can be killed or taken, and are included in Schedule 3 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended). It is illegal to fish for shad in Britain and they are both on the UK BAP Priority fish species list.


Image; Winkles. © Solway Firth Partnership. Photographer; Colin Tennant

Marine fish and shellfish

Uncommon species

More than 130 fish species have been recorded in the Solway Firth. This includes a number of uncommon species such as the swordfish, (Xiphias gladius), the sunfish (Mola mola), a number of tunnys and sharks and some seahorses. A list of 130 species recorded in the Solway as of 1993 is provided in Potts and Swaby (1993).

Warmer species can enter the Solway probably because its waters are the most northerly of the shallow warm waters of the Irish Sea, before the relatively deep and colder waters of the North Channel. Rocky species such as the conger eel (Conger conger) and many wrasses are also represented but pelagic and deep-water species are not well represented.


Image; Portpatrick © G. Reid/ Solway Firth Partnership.

Marine fish and shellfish

Priority and Pressures

Species of fish in the Solway appear on a variety of priority lists for protection and conservation. Fish and shellfish recorded in the Solway appear on lists including;

  • Scottish Priority Marine Features (PMF) List available here.
  • UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) List of UK BAP Priority Fish Species is available here, and Priority Marine Species is available here.
    Note; The UK Biodiversity Action Plan has now been succeeded by the ‘UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework‘, published in July 2012. Despite this, the UK BAP lists of priority species and habitats are invaluable for Scotland and England when drawing up their own biodiversity lists.
  • Species of Principal importance (SPI) England. List available here.
  • Species as Features of Conservation Interest (FOCI) (Marine Conservation Zone Features) England. List available here.
  • Scottish Biodiversity List (SBL) Scotland. List available here.

Marine shellfish can also form priority habitats (such as blue mussel beds and native oysters) see Intertidal Rock sediments and biodiversity, Subtidal rock, or Shallow and shelf subtidal sediments for relevant habitats in these environments.


Fish face many anthropogenic pressures such as; coastal and marine development, low frequency noise, activities causing disturbance, material dredging, water quality, eutrophication, seabed damage, habitat loss, pollution, water quality, aggregate extraction, discharge. These are not the only pressures fish species face, however, with issues such as disease, invasive non-native species, and climate change also causing impacts to fish. As outlined in the 2020 ICES ecosystem overview for the Celtic Seas Region the five most important pressures in the Celtic Seas ecoregion are selective extraction of speciesabrasionsmotheringsubstrate loss, and nutrient an organic enrichment (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (2020a).

Dredge and trawl fishing are pressures not just on the target species but for any other species in the same area which may be caught as bycatch, or their habitat damaged through these activities.

Arguably the main pressure on fish is overfishing, not just for the target species. Fish stocks which are fished above the MSY will deplete as this is unsustainable. As already mentioned, the MSY is the amount of fish which can be removed from a fish stock indefinitely as the stock will replenish through recruitment. This is not only important for the fish stock being commercially exploited but for the wider marine environment reliant on food webs and the interconnectedness of all marine species. The overfishing of one stock will have ramifications on other marine species which rely on fish for prey.

Marine fish and shellfish can be very sensitive to changes in their environment and ecosystem. The degree of sensitivity is dependent on many aspects of the fish or shellfish such as their habitat (pelagic/demersal) and species. Sensitivity to food web dynamics are also an issue for fish, which form a vitally important part of marine food webs as both prey and predator. Changes in plankton abundance or distribution will impact fish species in the area. Fish are also sensitive to the temperature of their environment. This is very dependent on the species, for example cod are relatively adaptable and tolerant to temperature change. As the sea temperature rises due to global warming it is likely that the distribution and productivity of marine fish will change as a result. There may be changes in the distribution of species or their range, either directly due to their own temperature preferences or indirectly due to the changing distribution of prey. In turn this will impact and likely change the distributions for species which prey on fish.


Image; Crab © Solway Firth Partnership. Photographer; Colin Tennant

Marine fish and shellfish

Conservation and improving status

Fish are an extremely important and valuable part of the marine ecosystem, so it is unsurprising that the conservation of species is of great importance to the management of the marine environment. Some fish species are ‘designated features’ in conservation designations within the Solway Firth (see Protected Areas). The cross border inner Solway Firth Special Area of Conservation (SAC) has River lamprey (Lampetra fluviatilis) and Sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) among the many designated features.The Solway Firth Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) on the Cumbrian side of the inner Solway is designated specifically for European Smelt (Osmerus eperlanus), known as sparling in Scotland. More action has been taken to conserve fish in the Solway through the Luce Bay and Sands SAC, where fishing measures have been put in place to allow forms of fishing in designated parts of the SAC. Various forms of fishing are restricted in certain parts of the Solway due to measures such as the Inshore Fishing (Prohibition of Fishing and Fishing Methods) (Scotland) Order 2004 and the Inshore Fishing (Prohibited Methods of Fishing) (Luce Bay) Order 2015, and the Scallops (Irish Sea) (Prohibition of Fishing) (Variation) Order 1986. There are a number of management measures in the Scottish Solway such as the prohibition of fishing for sea fish with mobile or active gear (such as dredge and bottom/midwater trawl fishing) in Loch Ryan (The Inshore Fishing (Prohibition of Fishing and Fishing Methods) (Scotland) Order 2004). For the most up-to-date restrictions on fishing throughout the UK visit the Kingfisher Information Service here.

Specifically on the English side of the Solway, there are several NWIFCA byelaws in force, including many inherited from the Cumbria Sea Fisheries Committee and North West Sea Fisheries Committee. The Solway formed part of the Cumbria Sea Fisheries Committee area prior to the establishment of the NWIFCA. Byelaws restrict the use and dimensions of nets and trawls, type of trawls, as well as vessel specifications including engine size and vessel length in addition to other restrictions and are important in ensuring fishing within the inshore area is sustainable. Byelaws regarding specific species are mentioned above, however the NWIFCA also has further byelaws to ensure fishing is sustainable within the area. There are a number of management measures in the English Solway such as NWIFCA byelaws 3, 6, 13, 14, 15 and the Restrictions on Use of a Dredge Byelaw. For more information on these byelaws, the areas they cover and the most up-to-date restrictions on fishing throughout the UK visit the Kingfisher Information Service here. Byelaws within the NWIFCA area are available here.

The NWIFCA has also established the St Bees Headland Voluntary Code of Practice, which has been implemented each year since 2018. This code recommends that no netting takes place within 1km of the headlands, and was established in order to help minimise the accidental entrapment of the many species of birds known to nest on the cliffs at St Bees Head. More information on the St Bees Headland Voluntary Code of Practice is available here.

Achieving ‘Good Environmental Status’ (GEnvS) in the marine environment is required as per the Marine Strategy Framework Directive to provide more effective marine environment protection and sustainable use. Council Decision 2017/848 lays out the criteria and methodological standards on GEnvS of marine waters and specifications and standardised methods for monitoring and assessment. The UK creates a Marine Strategy in order to progress towards achieving GEnvS, which is a circular, three step, 6-yearly framework for achieving GEnvS.

In terms of defining what GEnvS is and how to reach it, there are 11 qualitative ‘descriptors’ included in Annex I of the MSFD to help each member state interpret GEnvS and illustrate what a marine environment which has GEnvS looks like. The descriptors 1 and 4 cover ‘biological diversity’ and ‘food webs’ respectively and in the UK multiple aspects of the marine environment are assessed as part of these two descriptors. Achieving GENvS in terms of ‘biological diversity’ is measured through assessing; Cetaceans, seals, birds, fish, pelagic habitats, and benthic habitats. The GEnvS of ‘food webs’ uses assessments of; Cetaceans, seals, birds, fish, and pelagic habitats.

There is an entirely different descriptor for ‘commercial fish’‘descriptor 3’ for which commercially exploited species are assessed on the indicators of reproductive capacity and fishing pressure/mortality.

More information on GEnvS, assessments and progress is available on the Marine Online Assessment Tool from the United Kingdom Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy, available here.

At present the following summary progress has been made;

  • Fish
    • GEnvS has not been achieved but the situation has been improving since 2012 with demersal fish communities in the Celtic Seas recovering from over-exploitation.
  • Commercial Fish and Shellfish
    • GEnvS has not been achieved but the situation has been improving since 2012 with GEnvS being achieved for some stocks, however most shellfish stocks have not achieved GEnvS or have ‘uncertain’ status.
  • Food webs
    • GEnvS has been partially achieved and the situation has been improving since 2012 with some fish community’s recovery contributing towards this partial achievement.

Marine fish and shellfish


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Marine Life Information Network (n.d.). Species listed as Features of Conservation Interest (FOCI). Available here. (Accessed: 14.05.20)

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In-Text Reference;

Axelsson, M. , Dewey, S. , Tourell, A. and Karpouzli, E. (2006). Site condition monitoring – the sublittoral sandbanks of the Solway Firth. Scottish Natural Heritage (now NatureScot) Commissioned Report No. 155 (ROAME No. F02AA409). Available here. (Accessed: 21.03.21)

Barreto, E. & Bailey, N. (2015). Marine Scotland Science, Fish and Shellfish Stocks 2015 Edition. Available here. (Accessed: 12.05.21)

Baxter, J.M., Boyd, I.L., Cox, M., Donald, A.E., Malcolm, S.J., Miles, H., Miller, B., Moffat, C.F., (Editors), (2011). Scotland’s Marine Atlas: Information for the national marine plan. Marine Scotland, Edinburgh. pp 191. Available here. (Accessed: 22.07.19)

BBC News (2021). Parkinson, J. UK and Norway fail to reach fishing deal. Available here. (Accessed: 20.06.21)

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Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (1998.) Fisheries spawning and nursery areas ‘Fishery Sensitivity Maps in British Waters’ GIS Layers for 1998, Coull, K.A., Johnstone, R., and S.I. Rogers. Available here. (Accessed: 12.06.21)

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2019). Solway Firth MCZ: Factsheet. Available here. (Accessed: 12.05.21)

Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (2010). MB5301 Mapping spawning and nursery areas of species to be considered in Marine Protected Areas (Marine Conservation Zones). Report No 1: Final Report on development of derived data layers for 40 mobile species considered to be of conservation importance, Final Version August 2010. Available here (direct download) (Accessed: 22.06.21)

Dickens, S., McLay, A., Dobby, H., Goudge, H., & Deamer-John, A. (2016). Survey of the Scottish Solway Firth Cockle Grounds 2015. Scottish Marine and Freshwater Science Vol 7 No 25. Available here (Accessed: 22.06.21)

Dobby, H., Fryer, R., Gibson, T., Skinear, S., Turriff, J., McLay, A. (2017). Scottish Scallop Stocks: Results of 2016 Stock Assessments. Scottish Marine and Freshwater Science Vol 8 No 21 Available here. (Accessed: 22.06.21)

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International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (2020c). Mackerel (Scomber scombrus) in subareas 1–8 and 14, and Division 9.a (the Northeast Atlantic and adjacent waters). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2020. ICES Advice 2020, mac.27.nea. Available here. (Accessed: 22.06.21)

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Marine Management Organisation (2021). Manage your fishing effort: Western Waters crabs and scallops. First published 2014, last updated 2021. Available here. (Accessed: 27.06.21)

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Moffat, C., Baxter, J., Berx, B., Bosley, K., Boulcott, P., Cox, M., Cruickshank, L., Gillham, K., Haynes, V., Roberts, A., Vaughan, D., & Webster, L. (Eds.). (2020). Scotland’s Marine Assessment 2020. Scottish Government. Available here. (Accessed: 10.04.21)

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Image; Landed Scallops in Kirkcudbright © Solway Firth Partnership. Photographer; Colin Tennant