Few should question the strength of feeling and resentment that has arisen in traditional small fishing communities along the west coast of Scotland in the month that has elapsed since the Scottish Government announced highly contentious management proposals for MPAs, which, if implemented later this year, will prevent inshore mobile gear boats from continuing to fish traditional prawn and scallop grounds on which they have relied for decades.
Speaking with a clear unified voice, fishermen and their families, together with their representatives ashore, have strongly condemned the proposed measures, as is abundantly clear in the Mallaig feature in Fishing News this week.
The impact the proposed measures could have on remote communities, which, in addition to Mallaig, also include Ullapool, Aultbea, Gairloch, Tarbert and Campbeltown, where fishing and related support continues to be one of the main forms of local employment, will only become fully apparent when it is too late.
A complex situation is succinctly summed up by the words of eighteen year old Mallaig fisherman Aaron Mclean, who said, “Until the MPA management measures were announced, I was enjoying life, secure in the knowledge that, if I continued to work hard as a young crewman, a viable future lay ahead, which might one day include becoming a skipper.
“Now, at the stroke of a pen, my country’s Government is threatening to turn my dream into a nightmare. Why?”
Straight forward words spoken from the heart with total transparency. Who can ask for anything more than that?
One consensus of opinion expressed by fishermen is that, even though they have used their lifetime’s experience and knowledge of the local grounds to put forward detailed suggestions that would have protected sensitive habitats and traditional tows alike, the outcome as it stands at present is a heavy handed and unnecessary blanket measure.
This immediately raises the questions of why and what is the hidden agenda?
From time to time national organisations, charged with the responsibility of managing fishing and the marine environment on which fishermen are totally dependent, ask ‘why do fishermen not always relate to us?’
One simple answer to this is probably because of an underlying lack of trust and respect based on previous painful experience. All too often, fishermen and their families are continually lulled into a false sense of security only to be let down when it really matters.
Strong and cohesive fisheries management measures can only be built on solid foundations, rather than shifting sand.
There should be no question that a major rethink is needed to ensure that traditional fishing opportunities are retained in order to protect remote communities.
It is of even greater importance to start to rebuild bridges of trust and confidence with fishermen, who need to feel reassured that they do matter and that their experience and opinions are valued.
In recent years fishermen, together with fishery administrators and scientists, have taken great strides towards working more closely together for mutual benefit.
Meaningful dialogue and genuine co-operation are essential at a time when perhaps the biggest challenge to date, namely the implementation of landings obligations, has yet to be addressed.