This letter was sent on the 7th November to the REC Committee and other MSPs requesting they examine the merits of the return of the 3 mile limit or an equivalent – following the Channel 4 News piece on the Wester Ross incident. (some text has been amended to protect individuals)
Dear Edward and Gail,
Sea Change Wester Ross is writing to you as our MSPs, as well as because of your role as the Chair and Deputy Chair of the REC Committee. We would like you to be aware of the Channel 4 News programme and the #OurSeas 40 groups protest. We are also making a request of you.
Please watch “The illegal industrial fishing damaging Scotland’s ‘Great Barrier Reef’ – Channel 4 News”
We would like you to note that John MacAlister the owner of the dredge boat, (which eye witnesses saw illegally dredging within the Marine Protected Area) made a statement about ‘highland clearances’. We hope viewers can work out for themselves who is doing the clearances after seeing what a dredger does… pictures speak a thousand words. We believe there is sufficient evidence to take this prosecution to court and hope it will be.
Sea Change would like to fill you in on why we have joined the OurSeas campaign and the 40 groups calling for reform – and ask the REC Committee to launch an enquiry into these incidents, as you did with salmon farming.
Wester Ross backstory to the illegal dredge incident:
Sea Change Wester Ross began as a community group working with local fishermen and the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation to secure a ban on scallop dredging within Wester Ross Marine “Protected” Area.
In the Spring of 2018 there were rumours about how the Star of Annan and other scallop dredgers were illegally fishing with their AIS satellite tracking systems switched off. We were told the Star of Annan’s signal was in Oban whilst it was tied up in Ullapool harbour and illegally dredging within Wester Ross MPA.
AIS is legally meant to be on whilst fishing, however scallop boats regularly violate this with impunity.
At this time the Gairloch Protected Area (where herring spawns on maerl) was also being illegally dredged. This was reported in the media in December 2018 and this and other incidents triggered the #OurSeas campaign which has sent 3 letters to the First Minister. None of which are answered adequately.
Marine Scotland knew of these incidents and were tipped off about the Star of Annan.
Two illegal dredge sitings in Wester Ross MPA on the same day
Yet on July 18th 2019 local fishermen filmed the Star of Annan within the MPA (shown in the C4news piece)..
The Star of Annan was also witnessed actually dredging inside the MPA by crew of a sailing boat. (Note” details of the people involved – sent to MSPs have been omitted here)
Where was Marine Scotland during this year?
Our question is where was Marine Scotland when the Star of Annan had it’s gear in the water in broad daylight with its AIS switched off? Marine Scotland claim they track boats by VMS and have alarms that are triggered when dredge boats enter MPAs. This clearly failed.
Wester Ross is just one of many incidents.
Dredge bans are being violated repeatedly by illegal dredgers, up and down the coast and scallop divers are constantly reporting seabeds torn up and broken shells inside MPAs. We believe this has been overlooked due to the cosy relationship between Marine Scotland and the mobile fishing sector. That culture needs changing urgently because the boats do it knowing they can get away with it – but hopefully not on this occasion.
Protecting “Mearl MPAs” (nurseries to many commercial fisheries)
Mearl beds are thousands of years old, very fragile and vital for our fisheries and coastal economy. The impact of illegal dredging cannot be overstated. A scientist and expert on maerl said the following “It is insanity: the Norwegians and Icelandic folk think we are mad wantonly damaging inshore nurseries.”
Impact on communities
Protecting Wester Ross MPA is putting a great deal of stress on fishermen and community members because Marine Scotland is not trusted to be able to cope or have the intention to stop this. They are badly resourced. Even when caught punishments are not really any deterrent. The C4news programme barely touched upon how the community, fishermen and local dive volunteers do much of this job:
- We launch our own surveys to map and monitor mearl in order to protect it (by being able to prove its condition).
- collect evidence of illegal dredge incidents and other damage when a boat is sited.
- set up neighbourhood watch systems to report incidents
- campaign for proper protection and awareness.
- Protect the fisheries, sea angling and tourism economy we worked hard to secure from illegal fishing which is theft from the public.
Protecting the recovery of the MPA network and mearl is the designated duty of Marine Scotland and it is a dereliction of the Minister’s legal duty that this is not a top priority for him. This puts the burden on us to fill the gap. We have felt powerless to stop it as it goes on at night and hidden by the islands – only the odd fishermen passing will see it. The area is vast and boats hide from being tracked …. We should not have to spend our time and money on doing this especially as the strain on volunteers is huge and it detracts from our own economic potential too.
It is widely felt that the Government agencies do not take this job seriously – especially when we are facing a worldwide ecological crisis. The ban on scallop dredgers has widespread support within the communities along the Wester Ross MPA coastline. Yet the local Marine Scotland office in Ullapool are not fully aware of the importance of the MPA and mearl.
The MPA Network – “Paper parks” and “honey pots”
Many MPAs within the network are dubbed “paper parks” because they do not have full protection anyway. The one’s that have real protection are in danger of becoming ‘honeypots’ for illegal dredging as the scallop stock is so depleted outside the MPAs. That is why coastal communities, fishermen, divers, business groups and NGOs have gathered to campaign for something like the 3 mile limit as the MPA network is dysfunctional and insufficient to turn this situation around. Illegal and legal scallop dredging is damaging Scotland’s economy.
REC Committee Enquiry
We would like the REC Committee to urge a debate on the 3 mile limit. We also would like to encourage the REC Committee to ask searching questions of the Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing about why Marine Scotland’s reforms are so slow … His rhetoric about perpetual growth suggests he believes the seas are a resource that can go on being exploited eternally. This is wishful thinking. We are fishing the bottom of the bottom of the food chain and risking collapse of that. If our leaders continue to fail us then we may have to start preparing to live on a dying planet. Scotland needs better leadership.
www.ourseas.scot is the 40 plus group campaign mentioned by Channel 4 News. The Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation who are a part of this campaign have been collating economic and science evidence for years. Their figures stand up to scrutiny – in reality what they advocate is pure common sense.
We believe this is a cross party issue given the crisis we are facing collectively. As in times of war we need to pull together. We face one of the greatest challenges ever to face mankind and we must address these issues of both legal and illegal dredging for all our sake.
I hope the REC Committee can help us,
With thanks and best wishes, Sea Change Wester Ross group
PS The Channel 4 News programme has spurred Claudia Beamish to pose some questions in the house.
This was sent to Edward Mountain MSP Chair of REC Committee
Gail Ross MSP dep Chair REC Committee and cc’d to Kate Forbes MSP
Maree Todd MSP, John Finnie MSP, Ian Blackford MP