Alistair Sinclair of SCFF talks on reform (Autumn 2016)

Alistair Sinclair, the Chairman of the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation, (SCFF) is passionate about the potential for well managed low impact (creel and dive) fisheries to be the drivers for the regeneration of Scotland’s coastal communities. During the MPA debate he championed the cause for greater protection and better management of Scotland’s inshore waters and supported coastal community groups like Sea Change Wester Ross when we were working for greater protection of the sea bed within the Wester Ross MPA.  From my observations, without Alistairs and SCFF’s robust support for MPAs nationwide, they would not have got the political support necessary to push them through. I have always felt humbled and inspired by his example of standing up for what he believed in, often at personal cost, and in the most difficult of circumstances. He has a vision I wholeheartedly support. Our group Sea Change helped too, as did many others, but with around 80 percent of the Scottish fleet being creel and dive fishermen, support from SCFF was to my mind the critical factor. In Wester Ross  some of the local Creel and Dive fishermen-spokespeople put their head above the parapet in support of our MPAs too and made a huge difference. Scotland and future generations owe Alistair and SCFF a great deal for making that possible. For that I am personally forever grateful. I also believe future generations will see the benefits of this robust stance at this critical juncture for the sea with global warming and acidification impacting many fisheries.

Recently SCFF, SFF, MCS, COAST and Roseanna Cunningham Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform, met to discuss our newly created Marine Protected Areas.  Alistair was still recovering from a near fatal car accident, so he was unable to attend. However he did manage to send the following recorded presentation with a message that MPA’s needed to be just the start of more radical reform urgently needed…for there is much more to be done and I believe we could not have better leadership at the helm of the creel and dive fisheries, with a real vision for change, than SCFF..Please listen to the brief message here…  

This is also a good opportunity to thank Alistair for his leadership. Shortly after he came out of hospital, and still in early stages of recovery,  I phoned him, unsure of what to expect after so many serious injuries……To my surprise and delight I found myself laughing out loud – when within minutes he was quoting a fellow Sinclair on the reason why so many urgent reforms were kicked into the long grass (listen to his presentation for the quote).   I remember thinking, “wow this man is unstoppable! Not even a bad accident can dampen his passion for the job or diminish his resolve.”  Alistair advocates bravery and leads by example.  I think we owe him and his team a huge amount, even if perhaps creelers in the far North West are not fully aware of how their cause is being championed so robustly at the top. Alistair’s statement covers many topics – but one topic in particular covers ground that Sea Change Wester Ross is currently grappling with, and that is the toxic impact of Fish Farms. As Alistair says “there is a rash” of fish farms applying for access to MPAs. This sets a dangerous precedent should the Government decide to overlook the intention behind the network of MPAs, created to recover depleted seas. SCFF is not just Alistair of course – he has an excellent team which includes Alasdair Hughson who co-chairs the SSDA and was voted on to the SCFF board of Directors. Thanks to Ali Hughson, SCFF and Keltic Seafare (the company Ali runs) gave  tremendous support for our sea bed survey this year. As a result we were able to do a small number of baseline transepts which will help us monitor change over the coming years. We also found undiscovered maerl we believe. For this we are again enormously grateful.

It should be noted that until SCFF was formed in 2012 the Government, media and the general public mistakenly believed that the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (which represents the  trawlers and dredgers known as the mobile sector) spoke for the hundreds of  low impact creel fishermen and divers that make up the majority of fishermen on the West Coast. This skewed the debate, as well as meaning the issue of gear conflict within inshore waters was largely unaddressed. Since SCFF’s creation in 2012 the issue is now being properly heard.  Without the creel and dive fishermen’s support for the MPAs and Alistair’s & SCFF’s leadership since 2012 I don’t dare to think what might have been….  I and many others in Sea Change wish Alistair the very best of health and a swift and complete recovery. We hope he will visit us soon but not before he is truly fit and well!
NB  In Wester Ross the majority of inshore fishermen are creel and dive fishermen. Sea Change’s first group meeting included creel and dive fishermen. Support for low impact sustainable fishing is central to our hopes to restore the ecosystem, sea angling, marine and nature tourism and foster sustainable fisheries which are the lifeblood of coastal communities.

“The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat.”  Costeau.

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