Thursday, 6 January 2011


Further to the Press stories out today in the East Lothian Courier and the Berwickshire News, this blog, photos and video from my 'People and Songs of the Sea' project further highlights the sad and challenging times currently facing Scotland's fishing industry.

Unable to make a living, with high fuel prices, an economic downturn and amidst strict and controversial government legislation - Scottish fishing boats are being sold off or decommissioned at a rate which will see them all but disappear from our harbours. Through the current European legislation, it looks like fishing in Scotland's waters will end up being left to foreign boats (who can receive subsidies from the governments of their origin).

From a personal viewpoint - it can be seen as arguable that the strict legislation applied in Scottish and UK waters is all for environmental reasons (instead of more political ones). For example - it is NOT an environmentally sustainable procedure to dump dead fish back in to the sea but if a fisherman exceeds his catching quota then that is what he is legally forced to do. Once caught in a net, fish dumped or 'discarded' back in to the sea will not live so WHY are fishermen forced to by law to comply with legislation which actually does more harm to the sea than good?

Many fishermen are disgusted at the extent of fish they are forced to dump and believe that this could be more than 50% of what they catch. Before a net is pulled in a fisherman can not tell what the catch will be... Personally, I would rather an advance harbour landing quota was set for each boat and when that was reached, if exceeded, the additional fish would still be landed but sold off and the money put in to a mutual financial pot - the money from which could go towards fishermen, who nearing their quota limit, would then be subsidised NOT to go out to sea with the immediate risk of surpassing their landing quota. This would spread fishing across an entire year (not govern it by a quota of days so fishermen did not risk going out in bad weather to fish) giving fishermen the whole year to manage the landing of their agreed quota (and not polluting the sea with dead fish). I DO THINK the industry needs to be governed BUT current legislation is not just lacking in substance but misinformed and detrimental to industry and environment.

People outwith the industry may assume that ALL the problems experienced within the industry are caused by over fishing but to assume this is not to see the bigger picture as the current government legislation is NOT environmentally friendly. In addition, at a sickening rate, the fishing boats are disappearing from around Scotland's coast and with the boats goes the industry, the local economies the industry supports and the communities which have been built up through the fishing which has sustained these coastal communities for many hundreds of years. Suddenly all this is changing, almost overnight.

To look at the future of the industry - consider the fact that the people who do go out to sea are most likely to follow their family tradition to work in the industry. Accordingly, when fisher folk are finally forced out of fishing - it is very unlikely that non fishing people are going to enter the industry either (an industry which needs young people to survive and build it for the future). Once the fishing skills of today are lost for the industry's tomorrow, the industry can not survive and then the community is also lost.

More needs to be done to to help fishing communities with the extent of socio-economic problems they are currently experiencing in the rapid decline of the fishing and the demise of the community which once bound them together. For a young person to learn to fish, to purchase a boat and go to sea - the significant costs to enter the industry are impossible. Amidst such problems legisaltion IS required but IS ENOUGH BEING done to help?

Descended from a fishing family, my photos and videos are part of my self-financed People and Songs of the Sea project, winner of the Livireland and Irish American News "Creative Project of the Decade" (2000-2010) and the compilation CD (available from ) winner of "2010 Compendium Album of the Year." In 2009, my photo exhibitions were visited by 12,000 people and I am now focussed on a new body of work for exhibition in 2014, Homecoming II.


For more info please join our People and Songs of the Sea group  and visit my website

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