Small-scale Scottish fishing is at a loss to highly-funded NGOs says Clyde Fishermen's Association, Executive Secretary, Elaine Whyte

Small-scale Scottish fishing is at a loss to highly-funded NGOs says Clyde Fishermen’s Association, Executive Secretary, Elaine Whyte. Photo: Clyde Fishermen’s Trust

Environment based Non-Governmental Organisations are causing constant stress and anxiety for small-scale Scottish fishermen says Clyde Fishermen’s Association’s Elaine Whyte.

Government funded NGOs are hammering on the Scottish government’s door to remove bottom-towing fishing methods from inside 3-nautical miles on the west coast and 12-nautical miles on the east coast, and fishermen’s associations are nearly powerless to stop it as the march of the unelected lobby groups goes on.

The government has been driving a Green Agenda with no shortage of takers willing to take advantage of the money being handed to them. These trusts and foundations have major backers in other trusts and foundations funded by the estates of rich philanthropists.

This is the complete opposite of fishermen’s organisation who rely on membership fees. While they are going from day-to-day watching their members struggle and eventually disappearing, NGOs seem to prosper.

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Whilst the like of Open Seas can afford a Head of Communications and Campaigns to spread their message of anti-fishing, fishermen’s organisations do not have anywhere near the resources required to compete on the same scale.

Recently the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation (SCFF) have again called for a 3-nautical mile limit on the west coast and a 12-nautical mile limit on the east coast of Scotland. The SCFF claims that the removal of the 3nm limit in the 1980’s contributed to the “complete collapse” of fish stocks around Scotland. Over the years, the SCFF have claimed their members have shown that static gear fishing is environmentally friendly, economical and sustainable.

Since 2014, the SCFF has received £416,000 in funding from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation (Source). The SCFF say that they have 200 members which includes creel fishers and dive boats. Whilst SCFF member have weathered the recent storms of COVID-19, Brexit and rising fuel prices, small fishermen’s associations, like the Clyde Fishermen’s Association has seen losses of around a third of their membership in the past 2.5 years.

Speaking to The Fishing Daily, Elaine Whyte, Executive Secretary of the Clyde Fishermen’s Association said, “A three-nautical mile limit on the west coast would be robust enough, but potentially a 12-nautical mile limit on the east coast would be insane because these are just small fishing boats. Pushing them outside a 12mn mile would be potentially putting fishermen’s lives at risk.

On the west coast and in the Firth of Clyde, a 3nm exclusion zone for bottom-dragged gear could spell an end for several fishermen there. A number of the inshore fleet operates using mixed fishing techniques, which means they use both static gear such as pots (creels) and mobile bottom-towing gear such as trawling. With many small vessels interchanging bottom-towing gear and static gear depending on seasonal fisheries, it would lead to economic hardship if they were not permitted year round fishing.

“These are not big boats that can go offshore,” explains Elaine. “There seems to be a real drive to ban industrial trawling from inside the three nautical miles, but our members boats are not industrial trawlers. You’re talking most of our members are 10 to 14 metre boats who work well together with their static gear counterparts.”

Fishermen in the Clyde have been facing economic hardships for decades, but since 2019 with the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit and more recently spiralling fuel costs those hardships are forcing businesses out of the industry. Thrown on top of all this, in January this year, Fisheries Minister, Mairi Gougeon announced a great shock in the annual Seasonal Clyde Cod Spawning Closure. The closure was originally instigated by the fishing community on the Clyde, and it would run through the months of February to April to protect spawning cod. It did allow exemptions for Nephrops trawlers, creels and scallop dredgers to continue to use the area, due to the low numbers of cod that they catch but this year under the influence of some NGOs, the government excluded all fishing.

The fishing community on the Clyde got very little notice of the change and left them stunned by the actions of the Fisheries Minister.

“Normally we would get a 12 week or so period for consultation on issues like this, but these are the bombshells that are being dropped on us now,” says Elaine.

The ‘Green Agenda’ has been given massive backing by governments who are desperate to win the hearts and votes of young people who are concerned about the future of the Earth amidst the Global Warming crisis. In turn government funding has allowed unelected environmental groups circumvent proper procedure and get their demands heard in parliaments. Their campaigns usually consist of using methods outside the democratic process.

“We are seeing more and more activism springing up everywhere, but it is generally not from within the community”, says Elaine.

The issue with city dwellers flooding into rural coastal areas is a tale that be told around the coast of the British Isles and in Ireland. The more the influx the greater the displacement of local people. These new arrivals claim that the way locals do things are damaging the environment and they take will reorganise how things are done, therefore creating a pristine environment to raise their ’kids’. Unfortunately there is plenty of funding available to set-up groups and campaigns against fishing, farming or whatever they decide doesn’t fit their agenda.

“The resources being thrown at this is like nothing you have ever seen before,” says Elaine. “It’s millions of pounds, and the small fishermen who are being targeted just can’t compete with this.”

Elaine explains that fighting negative press from these eNGOs are now taking up so much of their time in the Clyde Fishermen’s Association that crucial work they need to carry on with is being affected.

She explains, “In terms of our time, my time should really be spent trying to further the case of these small coastal communities and working to make sure they have safe ladders at the harbours, speaking to politicians and issues like that, but I end up spending the majority of the time fighting these ideas.

“It completely derails the work we should be doing or trying to do in relation to sustainability, such as setting pot limits in the Clyde, or looking at different types of restrictions that would be of benefit to both the marine environment and the fishermen.

“They have money to pay people just to lobby full-time, which is something small fishing communities or associations cannot afford. You have no choice but to respond to media, parliamentary petitions or legislative proposals.

“So basically, the same people in all these NGOs are getting a direct line to government, while we have to go through a ‘correct procedure’ when we have to ask for something.

“They can go straight to the politicians and this type of campaigning is having serious impacts.”

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Small-scale fishing at a loss to highly-funded NGOs says Association leader

by editor time to read: 8 min