Dredging up Island Anger?

We were shocked by the hurt and anger – made very clear in your pages – that arose from our letter about finding a Orkney-registered scallop dredger in Milton Harbour.

One Tiree fisherman took it as a “patronising… personal attack“. It wasn’t intended as that, at all, but we nevertheless would like to apologise to him for the “cheek”. As long-term visitors, we have huge respect for all who make their living on Tiree, by land or by sea, and some idea of how difficult that can be.

It’s also true that, given the damage wrought over decades to banks in the Hebrides by big scallop dredgers, one small one isn’t going to make much difference now. Not so long ago, island boats would go out to the Scarinish banks to long-line for flat-fish, ling and even cod. That’s not possible, in part because of the dredging. But as Frazer MacInnes pointed out in his letter, we can’t turn the clock back.

Another fisherman wrote a lengthy attack on us, on ignorant tourists who question things and indeed on most marine science, in the Oban Times, which you also printed. This is the response that we’ve sent to that paper:

Angus MacPhail did a lot to illustrate the desperate PR problems of modern commercial fishing with his article “A Threat to Fragile Island Economies”. It firmly told off a tourist who dared to question scallop dredging for arrogance, ignorance, superciliousness, narrow-mindedness and a lack of education. Well… at least Mr MacPhail was listening. I’m that tourist.

With my wife, I wrote a short, polite letter to Tiree’s excellent An Tirisdeach newssheet where we questioned the arrival of a scallop dredger (from Orkney) at a Tiree pier. I had family links with Tiree, friends who are fishermen, and we have been visiting for many years. Along with all of marine science I know well enough what devastation the dredgers have wreaked there and around Britain.

Sadly, many small-scale fixed-gear fishermen and divers throughout Argyll and on the Clyde (where we live) have long been too nervous to speak up against this uniquely destructive fishing method. Someone needs to.

But Mr MacPhail says tourists cannot. We don’t have a right to do anything except take in the view. He ignores the fact that we are fishermen’s customers and that we are also tax-payers who subsidise commercial fishing – not least the improvement of fishing piers at Tiree and elsewhere. Mr MacPhail goes on. Marine science on dredging is not credible (if he disagrees with it). Britain’s most eminent professor of marine and fishing policy is simply “manipulating data” to support his “anti-fishing agenda”. There should be no Marine Protected Areas – fishermen can police themselves. Our view on dredging – which echoes that of the Marine Conservation Society, Scottish Environmental Link, Marine Stewardship Council, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and others, all science-based – is mere “moral posturing”. Sounds a little like Mr MacPhail pulled up Donald Trump in his trawl.

It’s not funny, though. This industry that has always shouted down those who dare voice concerns about a resource that belong to all of us. If Britain’s fishermen had proved good custodians of the sea and its contents over the last century, we might trust them a bit more. You only need follow the news to see how big scallop dredgers shamelessly flout the rules on gear and environmental protection – and we find out only about those that are caught.

This is little to do with “fragile island economies” – most large-scale scallop dredging is about big East Coast companies, big profits and a workforce many of whom are from abroad. I have the utmost respect for Tiree’s fishermen and all people across Scotland who make their living from the sea and land in a sustainable way – and I know many who do. I would suggest Mr MacPhail curb his temper and takes a measure of the width of his own mind. Don’t we all want pretty much what his father would have wanted – a healthy sea, recovering stocks and a fishing industry with hope for the future?

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