July 2, 2014
Time to turn to Parliament
With the support of 50% of the adult population of Arran, a local group with an interest in restoring and preserving the marine environment felt that they would be in a strong position to reach a voluntary agreement with local fishermen to protect declining fish stocks in an area of sea around the south of the island. But after 15 years of trying and failing, the Community of Arran Seabed Trust turned to the law in order to get the area declared a No Take Zone – the first time such a thing has been achieved by the will of local people.
Lamlash Bay is unique for being the first marine reserve in Britain where fishing is banned on the recommendation of local people. After a campaign organised by theCommunity of Arran Seabed Trust, known as Coast, a large part of the bay was declared a No Take Zone in 2008 by an order of the Scottish parliament. No recreational or commercial fishing from shore or boat is permitted, and no shellfish can be taken. Just five years later, research by York University has shown that the bay is 40 per cent more complex and healthier than the area outside the No Take Zone. The scallops and lobsters are bigger and more fertile, so their eggs spread to neighbouring waters, giving commercial fishermen bigger and better catches.
Remarkably, Coast has a supporter base of 2,000 people on Arran – more than half of the adult population. With this strong community support, the organisation tried for 15 years to reach a voluntary agreement with the Clyde Fishermen’s Association to protect declining fish stocks. “It was a long, hard fight with people who had a very short-term vision,” says Andrew Binnie, Coast’s marine conservation officer. “In the end, the voluntary agreement would not work and we had to petition parliament for a change in the law.”
What was won for the community was the Inshore Fishing (Prohibition on Fishing) (Lamlash Bay) (Scotland) Order 2008. It’s a striking example of why community groups should use the law to seek the changes they need, rather than rely on voluntary agreements or the endless pursuit of consensus between conflicted interests.
My visit coincided with the UK Environmental Law Association’s annual Wild Law weekend on Arran. Its coordinator, Ian Cowan, says: “Groups like Coast have had to use the law to fight for the people’s right to have our waters managed for everyone’s benefit.” Without the use of environmental law, the argument with commercial fishermen would still be unresolved as fish stocks plummet.
Coast’s next battle is to get the sea around the south of Arran designated as a Marine Protected Area. Unlike the No Take Zone, this will not stop people from sea angling or creeling, but it will create an area protected from bottom trawling and dredging. Again, the community is up against trawlermen, but after the success of Lamlash Bay, it will confidently use the law to challenge commercial interests. Coast’s experience encourages all community groups to combine popular support and charitable mission with legal action to take the fight to vested interests.
Kevin Curley is a voluntary sector adviser