Lossie no more, Clash no more, Mallaig no more….

The class divide is alive and well in the fishing industry. As the multi- millionaires of the Mill owning Baron class from the industrial pelagic fleet skip from court with what amounts, in their terms to paltry fines, it’s worth taking heed of what goes on at the other end of the scale. Fishermen are much decried and denounced but in terms of numbers most fishermen in Scotland operate on a much more marginal, modest and sustainable scale. The few mega boats that mechanically scoop the mackerel and herring from the sea hold onto the entire UK quota, bar a paltry drip, nae nanno drip in the ocean which is reserved as ‘community quota’ for small scale fishermen working with unsophisticated handlines or mechanised hand line jiggers from small under 10 metre long often single handed fishing boats.

At the mention of ‘fishing quota’ I can digitally feel the attention of my readers switching off into a yawn, but please don’t. It is true, understanding the complexities of fishing regulation is like trying to learn Outer Mongolian blindfold with your ears taped over, or negotiate a country house garden maze, erected in collaboration with the wall construction experts from the West Bank.  It is impossible to describe a system so irrationally complex, depressing and truly in human to ordinary working fishermen who only want to make a decent living. But it matters, politicians and serious journalists should not be turned off, readers should want to know why we have reached this desperate state. The EU bureaucratic market-obsessed coup that is now occupying Greece has for decades presided over the robbery of countless fishing livelihoods, hope and jobs along our Scottish Coast, and supplanted communities with heroin problems. It is the coastal communities miner’s struggle. (Dick Gaughan ‘A Miner’s life is like a Sailors.’)

Despite the avarice of the Pelagic barons there are those who are indeed the ‘salt of the earth’ the clichéd but true honest men who choose the long trodden link with ourunslick hand to mouth past, from which we all evolved, to take to the and fish. There are skippers at sea tonight who are agonising over the fact they will have to make crews redundant, cut down from two crews to one, see their family members and friends take less wages or none at all. There are caring skippers who are internalising the stress of rocketing fuel prices, leeching fish quota costs and draconian EU regulation and swallowing Beta Blockers on their watch. The Scottish Government knee-jerking into action and failing to resist effectively the Brussels juggernaut is Hell bent on reducing the paltry fishing opportunities that remain within the small ‘artisanal’ coastal fishing fleet and the hard pressed whitefish fleet.

For today’s argument, a Scottish Government consultation launched this week intoArea IV (North Sea) Handline Mackerel entitlements which retains merely afraction of the total UK tonnage for ‘community’ use, perversely concludes there are still too many boats in the small scale fleet procuring mackerel.

This is talk from a peculiar parallel universe where in the Upstairs-Downstairs world of the fishing industry the massively influential Pelagic interests can, in a single haul, dump more than the entire tonnage of the mackerel crumbs offered to the working class ‘small scale’ fleet. In terms of jobs, sustaining of fragile local communities, the small school, the local shop and blacksmith, the hard cash into a small island, inshore boats are the bed rock of the Scottish fishing economy. They need more opportunities for diversification not less, they have more to lose when seasons, weather or prices don’t favour them. There are young men in our fishing communities working from boats not much bigger than a bathtub, trying to make a living, who are self-employed and cannot claim benefits, who cant afford to rent a house, nor get a loan for a deposit to invest in a slightly larger, safer boat. And our own Government wants to reduce their fishing opportunity by incrementally ‘extinguishing’ unused fishing entitlements from the very fishing licences they must buy in the first place to enable them to go to sea.There are guys in this industry who see the long game, who espouse without political philosophy, a more ancient nous of eschewing the material avarice that destroys all the resources for the many through the greed of the few, who don’t follow the creed of the Joneses, who are living the tragedy of the commons as I write. They still exist and they need all of our support. Lossie no more, Clash no more, Mallaig no more….

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  1. While I agree with much of what is said by Fiona MacInnes, the one issue which few are willing to take on board is that we have reached a stage where we can no longer negotiate our way through this maze of complexity relying on the natural systems to absorb our attacks or to take an out-of-site-out-of-mind approach. Large areas of the sea need to be taken out of the equation so that they can return to a semblance of naturalness and build up the resilience that is inherent in natural systems. Unfortunately what you are calling the artisanal fleet is just as guilty of the ‘we know best’ approach to fishing quotas as the cowboys of the pelagic fleet. The contradiction at the heart of this must be removed if we are to make progress. It is naive to think that a common resource can be exploited for private gain without recourse to draconian management systems if the resource has to continue to prosper, and since no politician can face the electorate and live by battening down hard on fishing communities, it is clear that for the good of the resource which we all depend on, we need to take sizeable areas out of the equation. Inevitably we will need to see a further reduction in fishing effort as we try to balance up the resource to the true potential for harvesting. However, if we get this right and we can equate a smaller area of sea to a balanced fishing effort, we can then have a future for fishing.

  2. George Gunn says:

    Fine piece, Fiona. What the 17 skippers in the dock represents is the criminalisation of everyone connected directly or indirectly with the fishing industry. For the UK the fishing industry signifies as a small percentage of GDP where as in Scotland it is significant. The UK has always played poker with the EU on this basis and fishing has been used as a chip to subsidise ranch farming in the South East of England. The Scottish desire (from Edinburgh) is to change this but they can’t as they do not have a seat at the gaming table – and historically and culturally none of the Holyrood ministers know what they are on abou when it comes to fishingt. Don’t forget that just after World War 2 and up until the early 1970’s the Whalsay men were living in the 19th century with wooden boats and drift nets. What we have here is the financial blood trail of EU quota madness, insane bank loans, poor legislation and worse practise. My own view is that as long as Scotland is co-joined to a state which cares little for working people, whatever they do, and accomodates the rich and powerful we will never progress. The Lerwick and Peterhead mackerel fleet represent a high risk dead end. The system, at prsent, is murdering humanity as well as fish. For the north of Scotland particularly and for the world in general this is one of the most serious issues we have to address.

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