“Learn and listen,” say isles fishermen

​Western Isles fishermen are calling on the Scottish Government to take a far more localised approach to environmental designations in the wake of the HPMA debacle.
Fishermen said they hoped lessons have been learned from HPMA fiasco.Fishermen said they hoped lessons have been learned from HPMA fiasco.
Fishermen said they hoped lessons have been learned from HPMA fiasco.

The annual general meeting of the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association, held in Benbecula at the weekend, heard that sustainable fisheries are threatened by existing and proposed designations.

“We hope lessons have been learned and that Marine Scotland will be prepared to take a far more zoned approach which respects local knowledge and circumstances”, said WIFA secretary, Duncan Macinnes.

One example lies in a potential million pound electro fishery for razorfish which is being held back by the existing Sound of Barra Special Area of Conservation.

A scientific pilot electro fishery for razorfish in Broad Bay, Lewis, has confirmed that there is a sustainable fishery supplying the valuable market in Japan. However, the Sound of Barra remains closed to the fishery because of the designation.

Mr Macinnes pointed out: “The reasons for the designation have no relevance to this fishery, as the initial gear trial to develop the method was undertaken in the Sound of Barra, with fishermen having offered a zoned area approach to avoid the features.

“Marine Scotland has already invested £1.2m in modern technology and systems similar to those used in Broad Bay could easily be used to create additional employment and enhance landings of a sustainable resource.”

There were also concerns that plans for further designations will be based on incomplete information because of an “anomaly” of catches not being recorded for high value netted catches like crayfish, turbot and pelagic species.

Mr Macinnes said: “According to what is registered, there has been no activity at all, which obviously is not the case. That has to be corrected rather than used as the basis for further closures on sustainable fishing methods that have been used for over 40 years.”

The meeting called for recognition that proposed restrictions on the scallop fishery are “disproportionate” in the case of the Western Isles because of the local fleet’s high level of dependency on the relatively small amount of available scallop grounds, compared to Scotland as a whole.

Mr Macinnes said: “All of these issues could be addressed through negotiation at local level and a far more zoned approach to regulations. Everyone wants sustainable fisheries and blanket designations do not recognise that”.

The well attended meeting brought together fishermen, including many younger recruits to the local fleet, from the Butt to Barra. It was attended by Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, Alasdair Allan MSP and prospective Labour candidate, Torcuil Crichton.

The meeting heard that all sectors of the Western Isles fleet had a successful year while fending off the threats posed by Highly Protected Marine Areas. These plans were abandoned in the face of overwhelming opposition, though suspicions persist.