FISHERMEN’S leaders in the Western Isles have urged the Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead to look again at the statistics produced by Marine Scotland being used to justify the closure of vital fishing grounds around the islands and West Coast where local vessels fish.
The Western Isles Fishermen’s Association (WIFA) has written to Lochhead (pictured) warning that the closure of several key fishing areas would result in substantial job losses, reported the Island News and Advertiser this week.
The viability of two onshore processing plants which employ more than 70 staff is also threatened.
Marine Scotland has produced a list of Marine Protection Areas around the islands and the west coast of Scotland where fishing would be restricted or forbidden but WIFA warned that fragile communities would suffer huge losses with no environmental gain.
The Secretary of WIFA, Duncan MacInnes, said: ‘We were delighted to be granted an open and constructive meeting by Mr Lochhead on Wednesday, September 9 to discuss the economic impact of marine designations.
‘Clearly, the fishing industry has differing views regarding the methodology used to calculate economic impact and how fishing information is recorded.
‘The figures that the Cabinet Secretary has been given about the economic impact of the proposed closures are also wrong and have completely underestimated the jobs that would be lost.
‘The closure of perfectly healthy fishing grounds would force several fishing boats out of the industry with potentially dozens of jobs losses at sea and on land.
‘This would have a devastating impact on our fragile island communities.’
North Uist and Benbecula councillor Uisdean Robertson, who chairs the joint Comhairle Fisheries Industry Group formed to fight the closures and attended the meeting with Lochhead in Edinburgh, said: ‘I am extremely concerned about potential job losses among fishermen and onshore processing workers as a result of these disproportionate proposals which totally underestimate the local impact they will have.
‘Islanders have been living in harmony with the environment for hundreds of years.
‘We have been fishing these grounds for decades and have seen no decline in scallop stocks; indeed many of the areas earmarked for closure are showing increased populations of mature scallops.
‘The proposed closures would force many young fishing families to leave the islands. We have to fight this.’
WIFA’S LETTER TO MR LOCHHEAD IN FULL:
Western Isles Fishermens Association Craigard, Newvalley, Isle of Lewis, HS2 0DW
Mr Richard Lochhead, MSP,
Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Environment St Andrew’s House
Edinburgh EH1 3DG
10 September 2015
Dear Cabinet Secretary,
We wish to thank you for providing time to meet with us on 9 September for such an open and constructive meeting to discuss the impact of marine designations.
It was clear at the meeting that there are different views regarding the calculation of the economic impact on sites and how fishing information is recorded. We would hope to provide additional information to officials in advance of the Rural Affairs Committee meeting on 23 September to clarify our figures, which we believe to be accurate.
We also have to reiterate points that we made at the meeting. We were surprised that all crawfish landings in Scotland have been identified by Marine Scotland as having been caught by pots. This is not the case in the Western Isles where we have had a targeted set net fishery since 1978, a period of almost 40 years.
The impact of the proposed marine designations concerns us in several fishing areas. The high value of crawfish means that they are a large percentage of the catch from the offshore islands of St Kilda and North Rona. If set nets were prohibited it would not be viable for vessels to fish in these areas and they would be forced to relocate to inshore grounds, further reducing the profitability of vessels already operating there.
We are also concerned about losing highly valuable international markets. For example, local crawfish are already being stored in Uist for export to the Far East Christmas markets where they will be sold as Scottish spiny lobsters.
The East Mingulay area is of paramount importance to the future viability of two static gear vessels. The loss of the East Mingulay grounds would result in the forced sale of the Barra vessel employing three crew and place a huge question mark over the future viability of the Louisa, the newest vivier crabber in the Western Isles, which employs seven local fishermen.
We would also ask that scallopers continue to have access to the Sound of Barra, which provides around 20% of all scallops landings into the Western Isles, through a zoning approach as suggested by SNH. Marine Scotland officials already have the plotter data for that area, with the tows well clear of the maerl beds.
Most of the maerl beds in the Wester Ross MPA are shallower than 20 metres with all shallower than 30 metres and a depth zoning approach for scalloping in that area should be actively pursued rather than imposing a total ban. The results from the Broad Bay closure in Lewis clearly demonstrates that a total, long term prohibition does not protect the marine environment. In Broad Bay, recent tests have shown that star fish are now a large scale predator and have virtually wiped out scallop stocks.
The prawn landings by Barra based trawlers from the Small Isles is of vital importance to the future viability of the Barratlantic factory, which employs nearly 40 staff. Closure of highly productive nephrop tows would also affect the viability of nine locally based trawlers.
These trawlers currently have access to sheltered fishing grounds and if this is denied to them they will be forced into the more exposed waters of the Minches. Identifying additional burrowed mud grounds currently fished exclusively by static gear vessels should be considered to allow continued access to inshore vessels that have fished those grounds sustainably for over 50 years.
It should also be borne in mind that all the Barra skippers have young families. If their fishing boats are no longer viable due to environmental constraints these families will be forced to leave the islands and move to the mainland, further affecting the demographics of the islands.
We trust that full consideration will be given to the economic importance of those sites to the inshore fleet of the Western Isles and that a sensible balanced, proportionate approach will be adopted to safeguard the future of those already fragile communities.
Duncan MacInnes, Secretary