Sea Change Wester Ross emerged in 2014 in response to a gap in the marine debate which was threatening the survival of coastal communities, low impact creel and dive fisheries and the sea itself. We were at a crossroad. Marine Protected Areas were an historic opportunity. Yet the public interest was being lost in the debate over the Marine Protected Area Network (MPAs for short). This was largely due to a powerful commercial lobby. Only a few groups in Scotland were speaking up for our public rights, future generations and ‘The Sea’ itself. Even less were telling the story in a way that was rooted in real people’s experience and how jobs at the local level suffered from the loss of fish stocks. A voice which could tell this story from the grassroots was needed. We saw the gap and set out to help.
We joined the low impact creel and dive fishermen, represented by the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation in calling for better custodianship of our inshore waters. We united with Coast of Arran and other emerging community groups to lobby for wholesale change. Together we were telling a new, more hopeful story of collective action and the opportunities in recovery.
Sea Change Wester Ross is now a local marine community group & thinktank based around the shores of Wester Ross Marine Protected Area (known as MPA for short). We set out to restore the marine environment within the proposed MPA and encourage more local say in the management of inshore waters. We support the return of the 3 Mile limit. We are interested in root level change – a change in the thinking which underpins decision making.
We began by collecting together a group of people willing to articulate the desire for change within the area and build a voice. From the science to the socio-economics and knowledge of the habitats and species, we began to harness the enormous wealth of local knowledge and bring cross-sector information together to supply the evidence needed to prove our case. Our aim is to build a network of local partners who work together and share information to collectively support change.
We have an ‘alternative’ vision for the sea – a more holistic approach based on our interconnectedness with Nature and others, as well as the multiple benefits of a healthy sea for us all.
- We stand for the socio-economic recovery of the area through the restoration of our marine ecosystems and fisheries, vital to the fabric of the community.
- We stand for an ‘alternative‘ economy built upon the benefits of a thriving and restored sea: producing more jobs, prosperity, quality of life and better low impact fishing, Nature tourism and angling.
- We stand for ecosystem thinking and a recognition of the way in which we are part of Nature. This respects Nature and recognises how entangled, complex and delicate the balance of all living things is. Respect for Nature rather than an attitude of entitlement to destroy it.
- We stand for connectedness rather than separation. Working together rather than opposition. Science that sees relationships rather than species in isolation.
- We are willing to speak up when what we love and care about is being harmed. We’re interested in evidence as well as dialogue with those that disagree.
Our Key Success: a ban on scallop dredging in Wester Ross Marine Protected Area. Our 2014 petition on banning scallop dredgers made visible the considerable number of voters, fishermen and businesses supporting this change in the area. We lobbied MSPs and Ministers and we worked to encourage knowledge sharing between sectors. We created a pool of scientific and socio-economic evidence which provided a view of the whole picture only deep local knowledge could provide. We then collectively lobbied for better management of the seas in the firm belief that this benefit was for everyone in the long run. All the work is provided by volunteers.
The Sea has often been exploited by a few at the expense of the many: You can’t have fisheries without fish, or Nature tourism without Nature, or seafood without places to nurture the next generation.
Prawn trawlers and scallop dredgers wanted to continue using damaging fishing practices within the very Marine Protected Areas set up to restore the damage that they – in large part – had caused. The Government proposed to exclude them only from small pockets of the area. We believed this was to satisfy a powerful commercial lobby which had been damaging inshore waters since the 3 Mile Limit was lifted. This would give the illusion of protection whilst delivering no real change – misleading ordinary people to believe something was being done. This was cheating the public of the potential of recovery and the intention the network would seed the wider sea. We set out to tell that story but to offer hope too. The Marine Protected Area, if fully protected, offered a precious chance of recovery. We set out to ensure just that.
Six hundred Square Kilometers of Sea protected from dredging
In August 2015, Sea Change was instrumental in securing a ban on scallop dredgers in Wester Ross Marine Protected Area, working with the low impact fishermen nationally and locally. This ban provided ‘umbrella’ protection for the whole Marine Protected Area – nearly 600 square kilometres. Within this area were fragile maerl beds and many other important priority marine features as well as nursery and spawning grounds which support fisheries. These can now recover thanks in a large part to the many volunteers working together.
No sooner had we secured the MPA’s ecosystem from scallop dredging and begun monitoring the Marine Protected Areas recovery with surveys, there was an announcement. Open cage salmon farmers proposed new and enlarged farms in the very heart of the Summer Isles Archipelago. These were in the most biodiverse areas near to maerl beds, an important pink seaweed the MPA was set up to legally recover. Two farms were the size of 30 rugby pitches each and on creel grounds too. These threatened to undermine the recovery we had worked so hard to achieve.
Since then our energies have been split across competing priorities:
- Mapping and surveying the Marine Protected Area (including setting up 3 x 25m maerl transects as a baseline for monitoring maerl recovery from dredging and other impacts).
- Expanding the knowledge of habitats and species within them. Observing signs of recovery and monitoring changes. We have identified unusual abundance of sea cucumbers and found new species of anemone and sea cucumber never recorded in our area before. Amongst other interesting discoveries.
- We have shared our story of discovery and the importance of protection through films made from our survey footage.
- We have submitted evidence and socio-economic reports to Parliament and the Government in support of the local creel and dive fishermen’s work to protect the area from new salmon farms leading to the current reforms endorsed by Parliament.
- We have helped build the Coastal Community Network and joined the Scotland-wide collective action by playing our part in supporting the 3 Mile Limit campaign joining over 40 groups in Scotland into a united voice.
- This has been made possible by our volunteers, and supported by our local survey partners.
Our vision is to celebrate a living, healthy sea and re-imagine thriving coastal communities around intact ecosystems. Providing a local voice for biodiversity (species of no direct commercial value) due to the interconnections between species which support productive seas. Sea Change includes ordinary members of the public united by a shared love of the sea working to restore it for the next generation.
All who share our aims are welcome to join the group.
Our specific aims as stated in our constitution with regards to Wester Ross MPA are as follows:
- RESTORE the marine environment & protect the sea bed for public benefit.
- RECOVER biodiversity across the marine ecosystem and increase the numbers of mature breeding adults to improve stocks.
- REGENERATE coastal communities by supporting the socio-economic recovery of the area.
- SUPPORT sustainable low impact fishing vital to the social fabric of the community.
- ENCOURAGE Scientists, Fishermen and Community members to share knowledge and work together to create a world class model of sustainable local MPA management.
- EDUCATE by engaging with the community in an inclusive way and promote greater public awareness through factual education.
- ADVOCATE for better fisheries management based on the best available evidence to support sustainable fishing.
- BAN Scallop dredging and other sea-bed damaging practices from inshore waters and protect fish nurseries and spawning grounds.
- RETAIN an independent voice and promote the public as the key stakeholder in management of the marine environment.
- BUILD relationships between fishermen, scientists, environment groups and fisheries managers to work for best practice which fits local needs – serving the general public and future generations.
- JOIN with like minded groups such as COAST of Arran and other’s to promote a united voice for a thriving sea.
- BUILD effective management of the now designated Wester Ross Marine Protected Area (MPA) and a sea bed survey to baseline map the whole MPA area.
- MONITOR recovery by supporting surveys to measure habitat and species recovery with ‘Citizen Science’.
- BOOST or sustain the livelihood of those dependent on low impact fishing and marine eco-nature tourism and increase the popularity of the area as a diving and tourist destination with a sea festival.
Our group constitution is here:
All who live in Wester Ross and agree with us are welcome to join the group. Please Like our Facebook page too! For more of our story in depth, see our other pages.
Member of the Coastal Communities Network Scotland http://www.communitiesforseas.scot/