Fears are growing for significant job losses locally if plans for new marine conservation measures go ahead.
The director of one local shellfish processing plant, which employs 28 workers in North Uist, has warned that the move would shut the factory down, and the skippers of two local scallop boats have warned that they would be forced to give up fishing.
Marine Scotland are consulting on plans that could see large new areas of the inshore fishing grounds, and traditional scallop beds off the west coast of Scotland and the islands closed, areas that are currently open to local fishermen, and the Comhairle and local fishermen’s organisations are warning of the harm the plans could inflict on the local economy, especially in the scallop sector.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is calling on Marine Scotland to suspend the plans until a full assessment of the impact on the local economy is known, and in its response to the consultation stated: ‘The Outer Hebrides and surrounding area already makes a significant contribution towards Scotland’s commitment to safeguarding the natural environment. Indeed, it makes a significantly greater contribution than any other part of Scotland, and the Comhairle is strongly of the opinion that there is a direct correlation between the inappropriately high level of environmental designation and a lower level of economic performance.’
IMPACT ON LOCAL ECONOMY
Councillor Alasdair Macleod, Chair of the Fisheries Joint Consultative Committee, added: “The impact of designations on our fishing industry is particularly felt in Island communities and Marine Scotland must demonstrate how site identification and management process complies with the Islands (Scotland) Act in relation to an Island communities impact assessment.”
A joint statement Uisdean Robertson, Roddy MacKay and Iain M MacLeod, North Uist’s three local councillors, said: “We completely support the view that Marine Scotland should halt the proposals until a full assessment of the local economic impact has been made.
“This should specifically take into account the future potential economic benefits of fisheries.
“There is also the question of island proofing and how these designations would particularly and detrimentally impact on Island areas.
“This would need to be considered in the context of the Islands Act and would require an island impact assessment to be undertaken.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson responded to the concerns, saying: “We undertake sustainability appraisals, covering environmental and economic effects, for all of our work to designate and manage Marine Protected Areas.
“These appraisals are published alongside the actual proposals for public consultation.
“There will be plenty of opportunity throughout these processes to hear the views of all interested parties. That includes island communities, as committed to in our historic Islands Act.
“The National Marine Plan sets out a presumption in favour of sustainable development in a way which will protect and enhance the marine environment whilst also promoting both existing and emerging industries.”
FORCED TO SELL BOATS
But in Grimsay, the skippers of two local scallop boats have stated that they would be forced to sell their boats and leave the industry if large new areas were closed, and Hector Stewart, MD of Kallin Shellfish said: “This would close us down. Scallops are our mainstay, they give us the work that keeps us going.“
Kallin-based scallop fisherman, David Stewart, owner of The Guiding Star, said: “If the latest proposals come in, I would see no option but to move away with the boat, or to sell it and take up another livelihood. All the scallop fishermen would be out of work.
“The closure of the Sound of Barra was bad enough to put a major dent in our work, and then they closed the Summer Isles, hundreds of square miles of sea, and that is already having a major impact.
“The new closures would be bigger than all of the existing closures put together.
“We have always been willing to cooperate with that, with the closure of small areas. There is no need to shut these big, new areas.”
“How are these new closures going to benefit anyone? We are all for conservation, for seasonal closures, weekend bans, but all-out bans and complete closures are too far and have too much of an impact.
“This community is very fragile, and this could be the blow that could break us.”
GETTING HARD TO SURVIVE
Konrad Kosieradzki, who owns Kallin-based K&K Fishing with his brother Kamil, and which also lands scallops to the Kallin shellfish processing plant, described the plans as: “Very frightening, this would close large chunks of the grounds we are fishing.
“We support conservation but they want to close-off large boxes of the sea, and I don’t think that is necessary. We would have no choice but to give up the fishing and move to the mainland.
”Closing areas is not always good for the grounds either. For us it is getting very hard to survive and we are very frightened by this. We have ordered a new boat.”
Konrad and Kamil have invested significantly in the their business, and were named as Outer Hebrides Top Young Entrepreneurs at the regional finals of the 2012 Prince’s Trust Youth Business Scotland ‘Young Entrepreneur of the Year’ Awards.
For Hector Stewart, the concern is also for the many local people who rely on the shellfish processing plant for their work.
He said: “We’ve already had the scare of Brexit, and the uncertainty for staff over that.
“Many of our staff came here from Europe, many came as young people and have stayed and built houses and put their kids into the schools.
“They have settled and become a part of the community. They and our workers originally from the local community work really hard, but this will drive them away.
“This is far worse a threat than Brexit.
“We are already operating with one boat less. We used to have four boats operating, but we lost one of the boats, and we have tried to replace that.
“We have had interest recently, but one fisherman who was very interested in taking the fourth boat, learned of these proposals and walked away.”
Duncan MacInnes, secretary of Western Isles Fishermen’s Association said: “The additional closures will cause further displacement of effort onto grounds which are already considered fully-exploited and will result in further reduced income for local vessels and shellfish processors.”
Mr MacInnes is urging Marine Scotland and the Scottish Government to look at the introduction new technology to address issues rather than new area closures: “Anchor Lab winch sensor systems which have been successfully used in Denmark to zone dredged mussel fisheries have been trialled on a number of West Coast fishing vessels using different methods of fishing.
“This technology can and should be used to reduce the need for closing large areas which have no features or habitats that require protection, as was done with the first tranche of Marine Protected Areas.”
Western Isles MSP, Dr Alasdair Allan, confirmed that Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment in the Scottish Government, Mairi Gougeon MSP, has accepted his invitation to meet with scallop fishermen in Uist, and added: “Earlier this year I met with scallop fishermen in Uist to discuss the concerns.
“It is clear fishermen are not opposed to conservation, and are in fact deeply concerned about conserving the viability of fishing grounds.
“However, it is hoped more can be done to take account of their concerns and restrictions.”