There’s A Whale In The Room during Election 2021

There’s a whale in the room during this election – it’s the “Missing Marine Debate”. The debate which the party leaders who are standing for election in Scotland would have been having, if the media and politicians were making the marine environment a priority.  As Attenborough’s films and Netflix’s Seaspiracy show, the management of the sea, and the industrialisation of it, is perhaps the key issue facing current generations – but it has been the whale in the room for decades.

We’re avoiding the challenges. The destruction of the seabed and nursery and breeding grounds through dredge and trawl, open cage salmon farming and its pollution of sea lochs, illegal dredging and trawling of Marine Protected Areas  ( often just ‘Paper Parks’ anyway) the impacts of climate change, acidification, invasive species and marine plastics. Thats not to forget the multiple ways sea mammals are harmed amongst them pollutants that make sea mammals toxic and infertile and sound pollution – and the big one,  the industrial scale of fishing).

We have even failed to hold Fergus Ewing, ( the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy ) as well as the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to account for their real track record in the sea… Indeed we need to hear more from all parties about what their policies are to address this tragically neglected ‘whale’ -desperate for recognition as we approach the potential 6th great extinction – all human made. No asteroids this time, just us.

See: Vertebrates on the brink as indicators of biological annihilation and the sixth mass extinction | PNAS

Despite the shocking marine plastic art above  – it’s not just marine plastic and it’s not just whales that suffer. If truth be told it will be future generations who suffer most. We are both the problem and the solution. Protecting the sea may be the quickest way to save our planet but as Jung once said “the world hangs on a thin thread, and that is the psyche of mankind.”

If it is true we get the media and politicians we deserve, if we don’t ask more of them during elections then we might get the results we least want.  Whilst focusing on hope and what we can all do to help, we must encourage the media to scrutinise the Government’s track record because things have got WORSE during the last decade as habitats and species have been lost. Thats despite lovely sounding rhetoric.

An assessment by the Government of its own track record, in a leaked report, “Scottish Overall Assessment 2020” reveals the reality gap. A decade of policies overlooking the destruction of fragile species by scallop dredge, trawl and open cage salmon farms  have unravelled our seas, not restored them. This is an extract from The Coastal Community Network’s report on the Scottish Overall Assessment 2020.

The report reveals that “priority” seabed habitats meant to be protected around the coast have declined in five large areas since 2011. Seagrass, flame shells, seaweed beds and tubeworm reefs have been destroyed by the fishing industry and pollution, it says. Campaigners warn that these habitats – vital for fish and as a store for carbon – are now “perilously close” to being wiped out after a “decade of decline”. They accuse ministers of breaking promises made a decade ago to prevent the marine environment from being harmed.

 The sad thing is this is a policy choice of Ministers,  it can’t be blamed on anyone else. For a decade the Government’s response has been the long grass: i.e “we are working towards”, “in the process of ” or  “looking at” an assessment whilst opportunities for significant change are quietly buried.  This is a link to the article.

Plus more in the Guardian.Leaked report shows Scotland missed target for marine wildlife protection | Scotland | The Guardian

In Scotland we have the perfect storm – multiple cumulative impacts in the sea that unravel the ecosystem, thread by thread. What hurts most, is it is our own Government which is mismanaging it and at the heart of the problem. We need wide scale restoration NOW.  But Regulatory capture and the Government’s own  attitude to marine management is at the root cause of failure to restore fisheries.   (beyond our wider collective denial – for we too are culpable for accepting such poor governance).

If we could change the attitudes of Ministers, Scotland could lead the world not just in flights of rhetorical fantasy as Fergus Ewing is apt to have –  but in reality.

The hope is in the  huge grassroots movement of  fishermen and coastal community groups spearheading change willing to make it work. This comes from The Coastal Community Network and but there are many more wild fish groups at work too. But until Government leadership shows some courage no amount of grassroot support for change can reverse the crisis.

Demanding accountability is key as it encourages reform.

Listening to the political election debates you’d be forgiven for thinking all is well on Planet Earth, especially given the Government Minister (Fergus Ewing) is not answering for his lack of commitment to really arrest the decline. And he had all the tools. Even during an election he’s getting away with out being questioned? Even opposition parties haven’t got the sea in their telescope yet. It is disappointing to say the least.

It needs to be said up front. Sea Change has no party political agenda. Our members and supporters come from across the political spectrum.  But for democracy to work, it does require a well informed public, an enquiring media and free speech. We face multiple crisis, but the mother of all crisis is the ‘ Earth’ emergency. If our Mother was dieing I don’t think we’d care what party provided the cure – even if it was the Monster Raving Loony Party –  as long as someone had a doctor who had the life-saving expertise. We advocate on behalf of the sea, low impact fisheries and coastal communities.

Seaspiracy has got the public talking and whether everything in the film is 100% accurate or not, it did shock people into realising the  industrial scale of fisheries and the need to act NOW. That is the truth.  See below for an analysis of Seaspiracy’s facts. The End of the Line also put human impact and consumer choice under the spot light – that was over a decade ago.

Scotland’s marine environment is a devolved issue which the Scottish Government has responsibility for. Despite a lack of support from Government,  the creel and dive fishermen whose leaders have been spearheading the debate for greater custodianship provide hope and inspiration – alongside members of coastal communities, divers, anglers and school children, all working to protect what they love.

Marine Scotland and Fergus Ewing do little to support the requests for true sustainability from this massive coalition. They lag well behind the curve. Indeed Fergus Ewing is broadly considered a ‘dinosaur’ who in years to come may even be investigated for negligence.

We have around 10 years to face the crisis or fail as a species to avoid the unravelling of the planet’s life support system for future generations.  So why is the television media failing to hold  politicians to account on how they will reverse the emergency in our seas? Or examine the Government’s track record fully.

Creel fishermen and national coordinator of the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation Alistair Sinclair dubbed Scotlands MSPs  ‘piss poor politicians’. Theres no doubt some are piss poor pollutician’s and polluters too. Many support the expansion of salmon farms in marine protected areas where salmon and sea trout are already in the extinction vortex. Salmon being an indicator species for the wider ecosystem. Madness? Yes. Future historians may unpick with bewilderment our ability to avoid facing the need to act. We are in denial of our collective cultural ‘shadow’ – even psychosis. 

We can make a difference. For HOPE is in grassroots action. We can complain to MSP candidates, opposition party leaders,  journalists and broadcasters about the poor level of coverage   – asking them to put the plight of our seas and our planet first. Let them know we care and we want politicians who do too.  Contact:

  • Your MSP candidates
  • Opposition MSPs and leaders about their failure to address this.
  • Journalists or TV broadcasters 
  • write or phone the BBC feedback or BBC Complaints

Alternatively phone in to radio news programmes and speak up … Ask for the return of  the  3 Mile limit at the very least, for a ban on more open cage Salmon farms in sea lochs until they are reformed, especially in marine protected areas,  and for trackers to be put on all fishing vessels which tow metal over the seabed so they can’t illegally dredge or trawl.

Ask the media to look at Fergus Ewing’s track record. He would have you believe that Scotland is Tír na nÓg. A fairyland full of promise: sustainable fishing, massive marine protected areas, lovely salmon farms in pristine seas, all helping to feed the world with a low carbon footprint, and supporting communities, fishermen, schools,  football and shinty teams. With  infinite Natural resources at our forever-disposal whilst Scotland leads the world in combating the climate emergency. Yet Fergus Ewing’s own party policies are not actually being implemented. In fact the age old political tactic of hiding evidence and reform in ‘ the long grass’ to avoid dealing with controversial issues when faced with tough decisions is being used, over and over again. In other words look good but do nothing. That is more than negligent at a time like this. 

For those who know the truth, or can do maths and ask questions,  Scotland has enormous challenges. i.e Multiple human impacts colliding, one on top of another so much so that Scotland tops the league for the worst damaged seas in the world. So to do little or nothing much IS negligence. 

Our planet is a living system, a fragile web which is astonishingly intelligent, diverse and beautiful. Many of these beautiful serpulid reefs have been lost due to metal dragged over them. They could have been saved.


Photo Courtesy of Andy Jackson SubSeaTV.

We do not know which of the threads removed could unravel its ability to restore itself so we should only take more, with a great deal of  trepidation and respect. Yet we seem hell-bent on exploiting it all the more for political agendas whilst pretending we are not doing that – as if somehow it is separate from us. Fig Leaf policies are dangerous.


We need brave politicians able to be unpopular. Perhaps in the future to encourage change we could build cross party agreements to unite parties on taking tough decisions. This might  remove the political fear of point scoring and competition. This would avoid exploitation of party differences and come to ways to work out how to support those that are the losers.

MSPs need to resist the seduction of always seeking popularity, and fearing controversy – at the expense of doing what they know is right. Or the slow incremental corruption of being  “persuaded” by  multinational promises of  funding and jobs to keep ‘Mum’ about the true costs. Or choose what they know is just a short term fix at the expenses of the public’s future.  A choice that serves politicians staying in power – but not Us. Could that be the way ahead?

To be fair we can’t blame Fergus Ewing for it all.  Fisheries collapsing from mismanagement has been the pattern for decades, accelerated by rapid advances in technology making possible a more industrialised approach over the last 50 years. Of course the lifting of the 3 mile limit didn’t help. BUT he could reinstate it? Why does he refuse to even consider it?

We could have had a decade of restoration. We could have.  IF he and his predecessors had listened to  the science and  had courage and vision – and that IS the issue. We have documented the impacts, pinned down the science and we now know better. 

Even if the Minister asked for the implementation of Government statements and policy  – it would be a result. Instead Fergus Ewing uses words like “sustainability” in  defence of dragging metal around our Marine Protected Areas – amounting to a licence to trawl or dredge in 95% of our seas.  Seas are webs of life so smashing up ordinary seabed can have big consequences. Let alone Illegal dredging in Marine Protected Areas which goes on and on unchecked. In 2017 there were promises made to role out cheap and easy tracking of dredger and trawl. This is still in the long grass.  

The Judicial Review which the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation forced on the Government and won – has not lead to change.  Not yet at least but who knows what the future holds. The Government have appealed this, perhaps a way to push it in to the long grass. Read on.

 ‘Surprised’ judge to order ministers to act over “unlawful” blocking of Scotland’s no-trawler scheme | HeraldScotland

This is a view of Seaspiracy – fact or fantasy? | New Economics Foundation