Opinion: Angus MacPhail defends a fragile fishing industry

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This week’s article is a response to a submission on the letters page of the latest edition of An Tirisdeach (the local Tiree newspaper).
In it, the authors, James and Linda Laikie from Gourock, protested against the fishing operations of a boat recently bought by Coinneach MacKinnon of Hillcrest, Tiree.
The arrogance and ignorance of the content, coupled with the supercilious tone in which it was delivered, places this letter as a shining example of the very worst traits of anti-fishing lobbyists, and a good indicator as to why there is such deep distrust of environmental groups by the fishing industry.
The issues created by such strong opinions based on lack of knowledge are, of course, not limited to Tiree, but are a threat to populations across all fishing communities.
Conservation of stock and stewarding of marine resources is in everyone’s interests, but bystanders willing to devastate fishermen’s livelihoods on the whim of passionate ignorance are a danger to fragile coastal communities.
One of the main reasons why I object to any proposals for creating protected areas of sea and coastline, such as MPAs and SPAs is that once they are designated, it gives this type of person with an unbalanced and uneducated perspective a high degree of direct control over economies and populations in which they have no anthropological interest.
The worrying truth is that there is an alarming number of this type of individual – and numbers mean political power and political power means influence. They would happily oversee the depopulation of islands like Tiree if it satisfied their positions of moral posturing on environmental issues they do not understand, but feel so very strongly about.
I fully admit to being biased in this. The man among all for whom I hold the greatest respect was at one time a scallop fisherman. It is relevant to convey to the Laikies that the scallop ground fished by that man, my uncle, Iain Skipinnish in the 1980s and 1990s, and also fished by countless other boats from all over the country at that time, before that time and until the present day is exactly the same ground that Coinneach MacKinnon is making a living from now.
Analogies of cutting down a forest to catch a parrot, as quoted in their letter, is the type of ridiculous, sensationalist nonsense that kills the credibility of the marine science industry in the eyes of fishermen and makes it more difficult for all sides to work together in the interests of the sea and the fruits it bears.
Certainly, scallop dredging can cause damage to certain types of seabed in certain places and this should be managed sensibly and, in some cases, closing specific areas may be the best action. Progress on this will not be made, though, by extreme views and ignorance the like of which was displayed in the letter being discussed.
I suggest to James and Linda Laikie that there are far more damaging industries adversely affecting the world’s oceans than that which can be inflicted by a 37ft, four dredge-a-side scalloper towing on flat gravel and sand beds that have been fished in this way sustainably since scallop dredging began in the area more than 60 years ago.
They should turn their energies against big industry filling the seas with plastic, heavy metals and other waste, and refrain from demonising a young man doing his best to make a modest living on a remote and fragile island.
I hope the next time the Laikies of Gourock are visting Milton Harbour they happen upon the ghost of my father. Along with others, he worked hard to have the original and the newer pier built, and he would be immensely proud of the thriving fishing fleet now operating from there. He would be very proud of Coinneach, a young energetic man who has taken a considerable risk in investing in growth and diversification to build a stronger future for himself, his family, the fishing industry and the island of Tiree as a whole.
I, too, am very proud of Coinneach and I hope he will not allow his career to be adversely affected by the narrow-minded sniping of people who clearly do not understand the damage their ignorance can inflict on an already weak island economy.