Sea Change, a local community group made up of members of the public, creel and dive fishermen and scientists on the West Coast of Scotland want dredgers banned and trawling limited in the Wester Ross Marine Protected Area. Creels are used to catch langoustines, crabs and lobsters, much like lobster pots used in New England. Creel fisheries have strict minimum landings sizes and animals returned to the sea are unharmed.
Richard Lochhead, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, announced recently that a Marine Conservation Order (MCO) will end the highly destructive practice of scallop dredging within the Wester Ross Marine Protected Area and other west coast MPAs as well as limit trawls to specific areas. These measures affect less than 3.5 per cent of Scottish territorial waters. Further consultation has been offered to all parties to comment on this draft recommendation by the 7th August.
Sea Change, a group connected with other like minded community groups along the west coast such as C.O.A.S.T of Arran and other’s welcome this as a good first step. Sea Change has campaigned to end damaging fishing practices in order to save unique species; promote a sustainable fishery and involve the local community in the management of Scottish seas. Sea Change are working hard with these other west coast communities and fishing groups to ensure our marine protected areas are fairly managed for the greatest public benefit. The proposals in Wester Ross may halt a sea in rapid decline. The inshore ecosystem has nearly been obliterated by over a hundred years of mismanagement.
Please sign ORI’s petition (click here), drafted in concert with Sea Change, to ban dredgers in the Wester Ross Marine Protected Area. Industry will be pulling hard to block the Cabinet Secretary’s recommendations.
Wester Ross is on the north coast of the Highlands, north of Skye. It is not to be confused with “Westeros,” a fictional continent in HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” However, Actor Rory McCann, known as Sandor “The Hound” Clegane, born and raised in Glasgow, moors his sailboat in Wester Ross!
Alistair Sinclair is a creel fisherman and the head of the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation which represents 80 per cent of Scotland’s inshore fishing fleet wants trawlers banned from inshore waters as far as the 3 mile limit. In the Herald, a Scottish national newspaper, he told a reporter.
“What the government has proposed has been welcomed by our members but we think that Richard Lochhead should be bolder ”
Ali Hughson a scallop diver offers his account of a recent dive for scallops in support of a ban:
I send this to you all because I am frustrated with the lack of vision and forward thinking in our local fisheries. It could be so much better.
On Wednesday we left Armadale and made for Tarscavaig in Loch Slapin. The forecast was Nw 4 so I hoped to visit an area of good ground which we had left last June. At that time it was looking promising with a large number of 120mm Scallops on the ground, nature returning, even some recovering Maerl on the ground. It had had about 3 maybe 4 years of respite from dredging after Thomas Maclean had participated in a decommissioning scheme and scrapped the 8 a side Scallop dredger “Rebecca Maclean” which prosecuted the local grounds.
We have followed our personal policy of leaving all Scallops below 110mm on the ground to grow and re-produce for the last five years or so, as a result we see the catches improve every year. We used to “stash” small Scallops but didn’t see the point any more as there were no dredgers about to hide them from any more.
We rounded Sleat point and it was quickly apparent that the weather would not allow us to work at Tarscavaig with a Sw 6-7 blowing. As a result I made for the east side of the Aird peninsula and shelter. En route I saw a scallop dredger working the ground which I had intended to work at Tarscavaig.
That day, we dived on some 30m boulder ridges off Glasnakille. These ridges usually produce a 50/50 mix of Scallops above 120mm and between 110-120mm. Dives of 20-30kg are expected. We found that the boulder ridges had been dredged heavily in the recent past. With smashed Crab and Sea Urchin still containing their meat and innards. I saw two heavily mangled balls of Crab creels during a dive here. The ridges had been physically altered since my last visit, four years ago. They were lower and the boulder which comprised them had been extensively scattered. The Kelp which had been on top of the ridges was lying, torn and limp on the seabed around the boulders. Scallops were in some cases fatally injured with chunks of shell and skirt torn out and in others completely smashed. We averaged 10kg per dive over 5 dives and gave up. It was heartbreaking. The ridges did not even resemble those in my memory.
Due to this and the improving weather conditions, Sw 3 by this time. We made for Loch Eishort and the 20-25m boulder slopes and lumps which are in the mouth of Heast. We did 7 more dives in this area and found the same scenario all over. Smashed Urchin, Scallop and Crab, ripped up Kelp, torn and dying Anemone, (sorry, I dont know their name but they are the ones which can grow over a foot tall and inhabit muddy, tidal areas). It was soul destroying.
That Night we stayed at Heast and today we worked our way out the South shore of Eishort. We did 9 dives today and on every one we saw the same level of devastation. I did my last dive this afternoon on the gps plotter mark which we had left last June where the ground was recovering and looking in good shape. I found that it had been dredged heavily. It was no surprise. I was moved to the point of tears by what I saw there. I don’t need to describe it to you. I don’t know if I have the words. The place was fresh in my mind from the last time I had dived it and has been ruined beyond recognition with the “ploughed field” scenario heavily evident. Stones and boulders ripped up from under the sand/Maerl and fully exposed creating a Martian like surface. The partially recovered Maerl no longer evident etc etc. I quickly abandoned my intended plan and went up and over the rocky area I had planned to fish. I found an area which the dredger had missed and bagged about 30kg of good large shells but that is not the point. We are experienced resourceful Fishermen who will always find a spot to make a pound against the odds. The fact that we are still in business proves this but there are many who have been less lucky and are no longer doing business.
Why? Why? Why? Do we need to see this cycle over and again. Does the government not listen? Do they not care?? Do they have the slightest inclination about what is happening in our seas???
Post recession we have seen a recovery in the marine environment which we fish in. This is due to the decrease in larger vessels towing dredges on the inshore grounds. It had become unprofitable for them to do so; so many accepted a payment to remove their vessels from the fleet. Unsurprisingly there has been a subsequent recovery in the stocks. These stocks were previously over exploited and with a recent reduction in fuel costs and improvements in market conditions it has again become viable for smaller scale mobile vessels to dredge for Scallops in these areas.
I am angry at the Government who allows this continuing cycle of degradation to continue. The point is that that one vessel will now be fatally damaging an unbelievably massive area of productive fishing ground which, given the chance, could support many local families in the same position. Why should his actions, sanctioned by Marine Scotland, deny these other local men the chance to make a living, locally?
We have the evidence, look at the Firth of Lorn! We have the ability to change it for the better. Why are we still talking about this??
In 2014 Sea Change’s petition to ban dredgers in the Marine Protected Area received widespread support. It is great news that this petition together with many other supporting voices along the west coast, have been endorsed within the Government’s draft response.
The Government’s good proposal is being challenged by those supporting the continued use of dredgers and the mobile sector within MPA’s. It is absolutely essential that those who support the banning of dredgers and believe these draft proposals need to become law should sign Sea Change’s petition to demonstrate that there is much support for the ban on dredgers.