Creel fishermen denied cash help after unexpected ban

Paul McAllister with his baby son, Felix, aboard his creel boat. He is unable to fish for 11 weeks.

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An industry that was already on its knees is being pushed to the brink according to Campbeltown’s creel fishermen.

The claim comes after ministers refused to offer financial compensation for three months of business lost due to the new ban on creeling in an area known as the Clyde cod box.

The area, between Ugadale Point on Kintyre’s east coast, the south of Arran, south to Loch Ryan and across to Campbeltown, has been closed for 11 weeks each year since measures to protect cod stocks were first put in place more than 20 years ago.

Prawn trawlers, scallop dredgers and creelers have previously been exempt from these restrictions due to the low numbers of cod they catch.

It was hoped that the inclusion of these fishing methods in the ban might be overturned at a meeting of the Rural Affairs Islands and Natural Environment committee on Wednesday March 8 after the committee had been briefed by a panel of experts that unanimously agreed there to be no evidence of creeling damaging cod stocks.

Paul McAllister, whose father, two brothers and step-brother work in creel fishing, told the Courier he believes that cabinet secretary Mairi Gougeon MSP, the minister who refused to compensate him and his fellow creel fishermen, has no idea about the reality of the situation.

‘I wrote to Mairi Gougeon to explain how much she had failed our community,’ he said. ‘She refers to the loss of business as short-term which makes me so angry.

‘Anyone who thinks that depriving businesses, their crewmen and their families of an income for three months is short-term must be completely detached from the realities of working class people.

‘I have a one-year-old son and this has been devastating for us all. They simply don’t care about the real-world effects this has on my family.’

In a letter sent to Paul last week, the cabinet secretary says she regrets they are not considering financial support, but adds that the 11-week ban is a short period and boats can fish elsewhere in the interim.

‘This shows without a shadow of a doubt that ministers are completely ignorant of the reality of the situation,’ Paul said.

‘The first thing I heard about the ban I was walking down the pier and another fisherman said they were closing the Clyde to us and I actually said there’s no way that’s true.

‘The next thing I knew, I was being told I had to immediately move all my hundreds of creels or I would be fined up to £50,000.’

Paul explained how the cabinet secretary’s suggestion to fish elsewhere was impractical.

‘She’s using the North Sea industry as a template and it’s so dramatically different, there’s no comparison. I know she’s not from a fishing background, but the lack of understanding is astounding.

‘The ocean-going boats that work 50 miles out to sea can move elsewhere to fish, but our small inshore boats have nowhere else to go.

‘I can’t move my £75,000-worth of creels into the path of trawlers, they would be towed away in no time.’

With the industry already severely damaged by Brexit and the pandemic, Paul had reached out to his constituency MSP for help and had believed that Argyll and Bute MSP Jenni Minto was going to fight for the creel fisherman. However, he says he feels let down and betrayed.

‘Jenni Minto promised she was on our side and would push for compensation, but when I listened in to the committee meeting and heard her vote to keep the ban in place I was absolutely devastated,’ he told the Courier.

‘She promised us one thing then she went about things in a completely duplicitous manner and did nothing. When I heard what she had done, that was the time I thought I’m going to sell my boat – I had no hope left.’

When the Campbeltown Courier put Paul’s points to Jenni Minto, she said: ‘The Scottish Government, guided by the best available scientific evidence, included creel fishers as a precautionary measure to protect the spawning cod from any potential disturbance.

‘This has been a really complex issue to balance and the process around the closure has not been ideal.

‘However, the Scottish Government is committed to learning lessons from the way in which the closure has been managed – and will keep the measure under review – while Marine Scotland will continue to monitor activity in the Firth of Clyde over the coming weeks to gauge the closure’s effectiveness to help inform any future plans.

‘The closure covers a period of 11 weeks and the majority of affected vessels take the opportunity to fish in alternative locations.

‘However, I fully recognise this does not to apply to all fishers and I am meeting with the cabinet secretary later this week where I will continue to represent their views and the views of all those who have been affected.’

In addition to his concern for his own family, Paul is acutely aware of the other people affected by the challenges he faces.

The 33-year-old said: ‘My two crewmen have got their incomes to think about. They’re suffering too and I could lose them; I wouldn’t blame them if they had to find work elsewhere, but it would be such a loss as I’ve had them with me since I started.

‘Our buyer’s struggling too, he buys all our catch and his clients are obviously having to buy elsewhere at the moment. This loss of business impacts so many people locally that supply us and work with us – when fishermen have no money to spend in the town, everyone is impacted.’

Paul believes the refusal to compensate him and his colleagues for loss of earnings is not only unfair, but makes no economic or environmental sense.

He explained: ‘The fishery protection vessel, MPV Hirta, that patrols the area is enormous and its environmental impact way outweighs anything our wee boats could cause.

‘The Hirta’s gross tonnage is more than 2000; I was in the merchant navy and I know what these boats burn. The cost of running that boat for one day would be enough to compensate us all.’

For more responses to the ban and the compensation refusal see this week’s letters.