Over 40 Groups Ask First Minister, Will You Save Our Seas? She didn’t reply so we ask again…

This blog was first written in January 2019 a few weeks after a campaign was launched by 40 Groups to restore ‘Our’ Seas. This campaign began in OBAN in December 2018 in response to an illegal dredge incident in Gairloch protected area. A  letter was sent to the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with a kind of manifesto – proposals which Sea Change hope might become the basis of a ‘charter for our seas ‘ to provide us with some hope. This was followed up by a SECOND letter in February.

Since then a probe in to another illegal dredging incident, this time in Wester Ross Marine Protected Area, was announced by Marine Scotland and reported in the media on the 23rd of July.  Wester Ross is the largest maerl MPA in Scotland and this fragile coral like species is a target for dredgers wanting scallops. It is extremely vulnerable to dredging and can take decades to recover,  if indeed it can at all. Ironically dredgers also harm their target species scallops. It is a form of insanity when we are loosing biodiversity at the rate we are in the world.  Illegal dredging is stealing the local communities and fishermen’s livelihoods. The seas are a public asset. It is everyone’s not just fishermen.

The First Minister did not reply, although an invitation to meet with Marine Scotland Compliance was readily taken up by a large number of representatives of the 40 groups.  We met with compliance in Oban on the 29th August shortly after the illegal dredge incident in Wester Ross.  We had already followed this up with a THIRD letter to the First Minister requesting she respond on the 22nd August 2019: read it here Joint Letter_22082019..

For more of the story read on. We will be sharing more as events unfold so keep tuned…Sea Change also put a story in Ullapool news and the West Highland Free Press: see here: West Highland Free Press


Ullapool News – Ullapool News Report

Read more about the story as reported in the media here :

Suspected illegal dredging incident in Wester Ross MPA probed – BBC


Investigation launched after suspected illegal dredging in protected marine area in Wester Ross | Press and Journal


Probe launched into suspected illegal scallop dredging | HeraldScotland


Read on for the back story and context to this:

“What does it say about us if we do nothing?”

Those were the words of Alistair Sinclair, National Coordinator of the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation (SCCF).  He had been discussing the decline of fisheries which he had witnessed over the course of his life as a fishermen – from his youth fishing rivers and sea lochs until now.

There has been a rapid loss of marine ecosystems due to dredging and trawling since the Three Mile Limit was lifted. This has been compounded by salmon farming on an industrial scale in our inshore waters.  These activities often coincide with nursery and spawning grounds as well as vulnerable priority marine features. White fish and herring fisheries have been lost  – and wild salmon and sea trout angling and fisheries too.

Alistair speaks for the low impact, high value prawn and scallop fishermen… he knows that we are ‘fishing the bottom of the food chain’. 

Martin Luther King observed that those who passively accept situations they know to be wrong are complicit. For if one knows, but does not protest then, one is allowing the situation to continue. In this case the Scottish Government is doing just that. It is overlooking a situation it has the evidence to understand but it is allowing it to continue because of commercial pressure. That is not leadership.

Readers please open the link below to see the letter of appeal written to the First Minister from 40 stakeholder groups asking for the restoration of our inshore waters. This was sent just before Christmas 2018, it was triggered by the illegal dredging within a number of legally Protected Areas by scallop dredgers. In Loch Gairloch this was maerl beds where herring spawns as shown on Blue Planet UK and Spring Watch 2019.


In December 2018 the call went out to all those along the coast who shared the conviction that our seas, fisheries and ecosystems are urgently needing protection.  By all accounts even the fisheries at the bottom of the food chain, which is all we have left, are declining. They are treated more like monocultures to be ‘farmed’, supplying just a few commercial species rather than the diverse ecosystem they once were which supported many more fish species). That is at least outside the Marine Protected Areas, where there is at least hope of recovery in the more fully protected like Wester Ross MPA.

The call was to gather in Oban to decide on the collective response to the number of illegal dredging incidents. These illegal incidents were/are occurring within a small percentage of Scotland’s Sea which are legally protected.

The concern was also about legal dredging too.

Vast areas of the seabed (around 15% of inshore waters are particularly intensively dredged). Scallop divers who observe the sea bed on a daily basis (see the film below) are eye witnesses to what happens to the seabed when it is intensively dredged.   Parts of the seabed have become wastelands. This is before we have even mapped what species are there and are being destroyed.

The collective response has been tremendous.  On the 5th of December, a large group of committed people gathered from far and wide, despite the cold, dark night and late night travelling… Out of this Oban meeting an astonishing number of groups began working collectively to push for the kind of change which would halt the decline. Over 40 groups signed it.

A series of events had led up to the final trigger point…. Firstly in Wester Ross the largest flame shell bed in the world was discovered in lochcarron. This was unknown until a dredger legally ‘ploughed’ through it sending alarm bells ringing about what important species was being damaged on a daily basis as dredgers operating blind to what was below… A few divers had gone to have a look. They found much more than they anticipated. A vast flame shell bed of millions of clams,  the likes of which had not been found before.

The Firth of Lorne, one of the oldest MPAs (12 years old) has been a constant target for illegal dredging for years. These incursions were documented by David Ainsley who had been instrumental in securing the protected status himself, with a few others.  He has seen a remarkable recovery – hindered by illegal dredging and largely overlooked by marine Scotland’s compliance unit who is meant to police it.

Next, illegal dredging destroyed a maerl bed within a protected area near Gairloch. This made headline news as it had recently been where herring had chosen to spawn. A few months before this illegal dredging, scallop divers had filmed the area in huge excitement at the discovery of this vast herring spawning ground. It was 2km x 1km.  Everyone in the Wester Ross area had felt such high hopes for the restoration of the herring fishery.  It was blind destruction.

A large network of well informed coastal residents, anglers and fishermen working on the evidence as well as local knowledge, has been forming a network for years now. Many of us have an informal coastal neighbourhood watch scheme going. People are connected by a common feeling that enough is enough and urgent action is needed for the sake of all of our futures.  See for yourself with this film The Wastelands in the Sea by a Scallop Diver.

Watch it and ask yourself –  Is protecting the sea really not a Non Zero Sum game? A solution in which we all win. That’s if  we treat those who stand to lose access to these fishing grounds with respect and ensure they are helped to adjust.

A book was written by Robert Wright called Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny. This suggested that the times we live in are so complex that we are more and more interdependent forcing us to seek out what in Game Theory is called  non zero sum solutions. In other words solutions  which recognise our interdependency and articulate the need for a cultural evolution which serves us all. We are all in the same boat when it comes to environmental issues. This book was summarised by Bill Clinton here: Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny by Robert Wright, author of The Moral Animal


Non-Zero Sum Solution – YouTube


President Kennedy echoed the same thought when he said this:

“If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal. [Commencement Address at American University, June 10 1963]” ― John F. Kennedy

Will our politicians have the courage to do now what we all know is urgent and has been for years?

If you want to help, and join us protecting the sea please get in touch.

Ps Thanks to Andy Jackson SubSeaTV for his wonderful photography and generosity in allowing us to use it on this website. Photo of maerl and flameshell nests above is Andy’s.