The Scottish Fishing Industry.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Fraserburgh, a fishing town on the northeast coast of Scotland. You can tell it was once a prosperous and thriving community by the size and grandeur of its public buildings. These days it’s a bit tattered at the edges, but as I said in my previous post, there are some good people there. Nearly everyone I had an extended conversation with was very keen to know what I thought of Brexit. Almost as keen as I was to avoid the topic! I didn’t know enough about it to make a sensible statement, and I could tell it was a loaded question. It got me into a bit of an internet vortex trying to find information about how many people were involved in fishing in these towns and what affect the EU had had on them.

Fishing Industry Studies

The opening statement of a 2004 report by the Royal Society of Edinburgh Inquiry into the Future of the Scottish Fishing Industry, does not beat around the bush

The Scottish fishing industry has been managed under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) of the European Union for the last thirty years. The policy has failed to achieve adequate conservation of certain key fish stocks so that an important part of the industry and the livelihoods of many in Scotland’s fishing communities are now under threat.

Changes to the European fishing industry have had a more significant effect on Scotland than elsewhere in the UK because Scotland has always depended more heavily on fishing. While less than 9% of the UK’s population lives in Scotland, around 60% of the fisheries catch is landed there. Many of the fishing communities are in small, relatively remote villages. Fraserburgh and Peterhead, by contrast, are large port towns which account for the majority of fishing employment in the district. Fraserburgh is an important port for shellfish.

Total allowable catch?

The introduction of quotas imposed when the UK joined the EU, drastically reduced the total allowable catch.  I was told by fisher folk in Fraserburgh that a lot of caught fish are dumped at sea. It would seem the amount of fish caught has not been reduced just the amount of fish brought to shore. The quotas have reduced the profitability drastically by taking away some economies of scale. Employment in the industry fell by 40% in the ten years from 1994 – 2004.

Scottish Fishihg Trawler

Twenty years ago, nearly 60% of the population of Fraserburgh was in some way linked to employment in the fish industry. These days it is much less. A report published in 2016 states that there were 780 fishermen (interesting it used that term… are there no women?) on a fleet of  207 active vessels. This is eclipsed by 208 vessels in Stornaway, Harris.

According to this same report, things are looking up for Fraserburgh and other fishing towns. The once dire situation for cod and haddock is improving. No longer at the brink of virtual extinction through overfishing, stocks are increasing.

Will Brexit make a difference for the people of Fraserburgh? Or will it be too late? Will the family businesses last or will the owner-skippers be bought out by huge corporations who can ride the up and downs more easily? Will the small vessels be replaced by supertanker size rigs? Will the charm of a salty Scottish fishing village be lost forever?

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Disclaimer: This is in no way meant to be a comprehensive analysis of the Scottish Fishing Industry, just my personal interpretation after reading a few reports.

I used the following sources when putting this post together.

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/aug/18/where-did-all-the-cod-go-fish-chips-north-sea-sustainable-stocks

https://www.rse.org.uk/inquiries/the-scottish-fishing-industry/

Aberdeenshire Sea Fisheries Statistics. 2016.

A chat with a nice fellow at the fish markets.

 

You’re going to Fraserburgh?’

The opinion of others.

Culloden Moor Inn carpark was full, yet when I walked into the Keppoch Bar there were only two people other than the barmaid. They eyed me warily.  I asked the barmaid if I could get a drink and some food.

“You might be more comfortable in the restaurant?”

“No” I said “I’m happy to sit here in the bar”

The “crowd” relaxed

The older fellow struck up a conversation immediately picking up on my Australian accent. The usual questions. Are you on your own? Where have you been? Where are you going?

“Fraserburgh???” Willy asked “Why yea going there?”

“Don’t hang aboot there too long” the young bike rider quipped as the barmaid chortled.

I laughed nervously, this was the second group of people who suggested Fraserburgh was a less than desirable place to stop. Mutterings about a drug culture and a depressed economy since the end of the fishing.

“Ummmm, It seemed like a good place to stop and … and it’s got a Lighthouse Museum.”

“Och, Aye” with nods that could be interpreted as sympathetic. Had I made a bad choice based solely on geographic location and a museum? Only time would tell.

It was my intention to hug the Moray Coast east (across the flat bit of northern Scotland), turn right at Fraserburgh and drop down to Aberdeen. I discovered that this was called the Coast Trail (east) and it was well signposted. Since being here I have discovered lots of signposted routes. The NC 500 (I knew about that one) but others. The Rock Route, The Pictish Trail, The Castle Trail to name some which all take you to themed points of interest. I followed most of the Rock Route by chance and most of the NC 500.

The drive from Forres to Fraserburgh was grey and wet. The bright colours of the sweet little towns of Buckie, Portessie, Cullen and Findochty muted by the rain. The ocean steely blue and the beaches, dull despite the light coloured sand.

I spent a while at Lossiemouth in the Museum of Fishing and Community. Run by volunteers,  it was small but had some fabulous model boats and quite good archival material if you were looking up family who may have lived in the area. I found the 14th April 1912 issue of the Daily Mirror interesting. The front page news was about the Titanic. The the page 3 banner proclaimed that all passengers were safe!. Goodness! Was that a bit of false news or what? It would take another day to reveal the true story.

As I had arrived in Fraserburgh in the late afternoon, I went directly to the Lighthouse Museum and just managed to join in on the last tour of the day with one other fellow. The guide gave us his undivided attention and it was inspiring  to go right up to the lens room and see how the whole mechanism worked. (Ok, ok so I’m a bit of a nerd in that respect!) The Kinnaird Head Light is built over a castle and therefore has some unique features. It is no longer operational. The museum exhibits have a large collection of beautiful glass lenses which are fun to look through.

As to the rest of Fraserburgh? It was bleak with ALL the buildings made from the same dull grey stone. The dark skies adding to the gloom and things were quieter than the other places I had been too. It had obviously been a prosperous town with its public buildings and monuments reflecting more opulence than it now had.

The large harbour was filled with fishing boats that ranged from tiny dinghys up to huge trawlers.

The lovely host of the AirBnB had recommended the fish market as a place to take good photos, so in the morning I went in search of them. I asked for directions at a cafe and a very hospitable young fellow, Mathew, who works on his dad’s trawler, gave me a private tour of the selling floor, despite the fact he had a cup of tea going cold!

So yes Fraserburgh was bleak, it did seem gloomy but the people I meet added a little sunshine!