IN Tuesday’s paper you referred to a number of organisations supporting Open Seas demands for an inshore trawl ban and their intent to lobby Scottish government on the matter.

This is in effect this body leapfrogging an established democratic and consultative system that already exists to inform, discuss and propose local fisheries management policy.

The system is the Regional Inshore Fisheries Groups of which there are five covering the coast line of Scotland and the islands. These groups include fishermen’s organisations and representatives from other bodies including marine compliance, science and environmental agencies. The RIFGs are designed to enable all interested parties to take part in decision-making about their local fisheries and agree on how they should be managed.

You would think that bodies like Open Seas might welcome this devolution of consultation and management to local level as evidence of a worthwhile attempt to create healthy participation in the governance of our seas but no, they would wish to leapfrog and undermine that democratic consultative process and opt to lobby for their own binary and simplistic agenda.

Fisheries management in Scotland is particularly complex because of the very diverse sea bed topography that exists around the 6160 miles of varied coastline. This could encompass long, gentle sandy beaches or several hundred feet of straight cliff drop to the seabed. The inshore is a loose term that in miles extends out to six miles from shore and over which the inshore fisheries groups can influence control. Fishing itself differs greatly from area to area relative to the seabed habitat of the commercial species of the coast. Crucially for fisheries management, stock protections and developing sustainable fishing policies, the coast and seabed are not uniform throughout the 6000 coastal miles. Lobsters will not be caught in the same area as prawns for instance.

In terms of boats, the inshore commercial fishery is predominantly made up to smaller boats under 10 meters in length with small engine capacity and largely very small single operators or family-owned business enterprises. Crucially these small boats which will fish using a variety of gears, creels, nets, and trawls and dredges are essential primary source financial contributors to very fragile economies, especially in some of the outer isles.

The inshore cohort differs greatly in scale and impact from the offshore fishing fleet, but both are needed to provide differing scales and locations of employment as well as the protein food security and export income of the country.

The management balance of ensuring stock sustainability, environmental integrity, and local employment is indeed very tricky, notwithstanding Scotland’s almost uniquely diverse and abundant mixed fishery complexion. That is exactly what the current IFG system is there to do.

What does not help this complicated picture of inclusion and discussion, is organisations that attempt to conduct fisheries management via press release and lobbying, targeting MSPs and others who are often remote from the nuances of coastal communities’ needs and issues.

Scotland’s coastal communities are at a tipping point on the verge of becoming consumed and swamped by the mammon of tourism and the second clearances of second home ownership.

There is not only a social and cultural imbalance in those communities but a destructive economic pressure skewing their cohesion and population resilience that is now running out of control.

Well- funded lobby groups are exacerbating such social decline by attempting government policy capture through the back door with campaigns such as the one Open Seas are promoting and where they are deliberately using a megaphone of simplistic sound-bites, not unlike those which gave use the travesty of Brexit, to garner easy support.

There may of course be limits which are entirely appropriate for some bespoke areas which accord with Open Seas proposals but blanket limits are no way forward.

Much can be learned on fisheries management from Norway which adopts a big tent approach to inclusion and which again caters for a very different fisheries profile to Scotland. However most significant is a national policy designed to assist the most vulnerable fishing communities to survive.

Where we have the democratic structures to include parties in productive discussion on fishing with procedures for all members of the public to comment through public consultation, let’s use those processes, them not seek to undermine them.

Fiona Matheson
Stromness, Orkney