A view on Fishing,Community and Life on the NW coast of Scotland

Posts tagged ‘Inverness’

Crofting the Sea.

And in the post arrives the prototype of the 2018 calendar, still raising funds for the Applecross Community Company and kindly printed at cost by Stewart of https://yourdoricmor.com printers in Edinburgh. The offering for September.

While catching a few langoustines and squat lobsters on my own, although it is a draining physical occupation, you can do it almost subconsciously. Sometimes a trigger can make you think and that is what happened just before Christmas last year. A couple of fisher folk from Shieldaig stopped off for a quick brandy or two while waiting for the bus to take them back round the coast. And lots of questions came my way from which the information required meant a dip into my past when we had a good going scallop farm based in Toscaig and Camusterrach. A combination of it being a hard job, aging body and a slight change in the scallop spawning, possibly due to climate change, meant a great way to make a living was shelved naturally. But the conversation stuck and now there is a little long line in place, tucked away and less than a quarter the length of a crab fleet, to on grow scallops and mussels for personal use.

Work on filling my wee long line continued over the weekend and finally getting the mussels in the water yesterday. I took 30/40 kilos of mussels of the bottom of my dinghy,

a deliberate leave as I wanted them at a decent size for on growing.

Starting to feel like a sea crofter.

Hoping to have a range of seafood by next year that will include, mussels, squat lobsters, langoustines and queen scallops. A fine seafood linguine, fresh and mainly chemical free. Seems that there are traces of emamectin  benzoate appearing in the Inner Sound from the salmon farms. This comes from their lice treatment and hopefully will be banned as proposed next year. But back to the mussels, the next stage is to empty them into a pergola netting, prepared by putting the netting round a tube and filling through the tube with the netting tied off at the base.

The tube was a cardboard one spotted in the school grounds which came up the road in the form of packaging.

Then onto the long line where the mussels settle in, grow the beard attachments and then make their way through the mesh, making the mesh the rope which they will hang onto, feed naturally and grow fat without any grit.

It was a chequered start to the week, with surviving a twelve other shift without me and the Boss falling out. This, it turns out is quite hard work when coming to the end of a long weekend at the Inn. Also knowing that there is a pretty full on day ahead of you. So on Monday it was a 4.45am start, hauling 300 creels before I saw many other boats out beginning their day. Do not usually see the sun breaking through over Applecross Bay both the time of day and year make that an unusual occurrence.

Taking ashore 50 odd kilos for both Inns and setting off to Inverness via Drum by 11.30 with Alison and the pups. Too long a day for them to be on their own. Full van so Sean had to take Alister back after his weekends work on the broadband. Seems most if not all are connected apart from Raasay. Some work to be done and then Sean has to make a trip over to do some physical replacements over there. May join him if time permits but despite the long days there does not seem to be much of that about. A run round Inverness, purchasing anything from food to wedding jackets, haircuts, pet food and boat hooks before heading to Eden Court to make sure of my ticket to see a German renewable energy film. Fascinating but disturbing as well when you realise how little is being done in this country, in fact how we are regressing in the UK. Interesting point about across the world subsidies to fossil fuels compared to renewables, if I remembered right it was 5,300 billion to 120 billion. As well as the FiTs that we get from producing green energy from the hydro scheme we will be reinvesting these monies back into the community. Many people visit Applecross for more than the scenery, good food and walks, but also to make contact with a vibrant and thriving community. Monies well spent on two levels. Made it to the film with an hour to spare so it was off down the Ness with the dogs.

No plan but ended up in the greenery of the Ness islands which they loved. Lots of new city dog smells for them and a good hour to chill out before the film. By the time Alison had finished her Community Leadership meeting it was 11.30pm by the time we were back parked at the Schoolhouse.

Maybe a reaction of packing too much into a day and not eating properly Tuesday’s planned day off did not go to plan as the day was spent, sitting mainly as too painful to lie down, waiting for a migraine to dissipate. But even then when the recovery kicks in there is time to take the mates out for a wander down the shore in the evening sun and set up for the next days fishing.

Still the catches are holding up, only down side is I am still missing a fleet of creels to the north, spreading the search further each time as it looks like it has been dragged out of position. Summer definitely here going by what is floating by in the water.

Busy with other boats fishing close by.


Inspiration in the Rain.

Driving west of Achnasheen in the lashing rain at 10.30 last night on my way home from Ullapool the old head was brimming full of conflicting thoughts having just come from Ullapool via Inverness. Often think of Angus Macrae of North Strome saying very eloquently about how he wanted to see lights in the dark glens keeping him company for the way home. Fourteen hours earlier the day started as usual with Dougal and Co heading out for their first jaunt of the day and a quick breakie. Unbeknown to them it was going to be a longish day for them as Alison was away to Arisaig to a little gathering of LDO guys who are going to talk about what sounds like boring things such as di minimis rules on grant funding. These items sound boring but are going to be critical in the ongoing work within our communities. For me and the Dougal crew it was off to Inverness and an IFG meeting at Great Glen House. Set off in good time but came across a wee problem in that the van coming down had a bit of a brake problem, alright for me but not for the van as, although missing me, ended up securely in the ditch.


To cut an everyday saga short half an hour later they were pulled out and everyone’s day continued. Not a cross word was said and all were just concerned with sorting out the accident. Slightly hairy moment when the van shot out across the road and up the opposite bank. Only in the ditch for half an hour, good Applecross help.


Ended up being twenty minutes late for the meeting but it was fairly interesting despite itself. There is still a feeling that we are not being listened to very well….the opening up of the west coast grounds to squid trawling and this strange hardship fund that is only designed to compensate poor trawler men for not catching enough prawns this year are two very bad examples of badly thought through policy from above. As often happens the chat over the lunch sandwiches elicit the most interest for me. Brief chat with Richard but longer one with Nick and Beth about data collection and luckily it turned out that Beth’s phd was done on nephrops in Torridon and we had a good chat about the survival of returned berried langoustine. If I was told by the scientists that it was a pointless exercise I would be so disappointed but would have to change my practise. Fortunately for me there is no known science that tells me by returning the berried female is detrimental to the returned one or the fishery as a whole.

After a wander about the buildings with Dougal,


a look across to the south of the growing town,


a trip to the Dog shop and Wholefoods, it was back on the road to The Strathpeffer Pavilion.  On the way into Strathpeffer I had to stop as a field, with no apparent reason to me, had hundreds, possibly thousands of birds landing and taking off on the land.




Important purchase of two tickets for the Treacherous Orchestra gig on the 25th of April. Bit strange as I do not what I am going to do this afternoon, dogs check out the Pavilion http//strathpefferpavilion.org/ grounds, a chat and catch up with Andrea, a lovely bowl of  potato and leek soup and up to Ullapool. Mid afternoon in the Highlands means the lights are on early.


Stopped in at Leckmelm but no lights on. Plenty of time for a fish and chips sitting on a bench across from the pier on a windy and cool november evening in Ullapool. This is living the real sensations of life up here.


The mutts got plenty of exercise and had a good night-time tour of the wee town, little surprised how many houses had no lights on. Lots of reasons, I am sure, but hope second houses was not one of them.

So to the Ceilidh Place and Lesley Riddoch. www.lesleyriddoch.com/blossom-book-tour.html Huge amount of informative chat and ideas about the Scottish nation, how we seem to view ourselves, how for some reason we listen to people who tell us we cannot do it ourselves. Many comparisons looking across to the Scandinavian countries and looking at energy or banking whether it be Norway or Germany. 41 energy companies in Germany and in Sweden the price of energy went down due to the 2008 crash, obviously because there was lots of spare capacity about, but in our energy rich country what happens….the opposite. We do have a lot to learn from other people and countries and have to cast off the “it won’t work here attitude”. Interesting statistic from Norway when they passed a law giving landowning Norwegian men a vote in 1814, 45% qualified. In 1832 the same happened in Britain and 5% qualified. We have suffered inequality for centuries. I do not have the mindset of wanting more so do not understand it but those who have vast lands and wealth their whole existence seems to be occupied in either growing or at least keeping it. A little of this came out at the IFG meeting when one of the organisation representatives became quite shirty when it was suggested that a more equal share of a quota was suggested. It was the “hard work” ethic that was introduced and the example of some one wanting a croft you do not go to the big farmer and take some of his farm for the crofter. Looking at it another way what he was really arguing for is the farmer to have more than his needs while the potential crofter is to have nothing. How we address this growing problem in our society is going to be crucial, but we either accept the present situation or look at way to redress the imbalance. These imbalances were created with the full backing of changes in the law in the past by those who directly benefited, maybe now it is to be redressed. An interesting example Lesley put forward was the impoverishment of the quality of the land over centuries of overgrazing and told us about a small project carried out by Ron Greer and Derek Pretswell www.andywightman.com/?p=3291. But more importantly was the project that involved planting of 100,00 hectares that would now be a community asset and Dunkeld, Birnam and surrounding area would be carbon neutral. Failed because they did not have the right “qualifications” for the project. Their Loch Garry project counted for nothing despite them taking land that was sour and turning it into a rich soil structure now supporting lots of wild life habitat. Planting lupins was one of the keys in returning nitrogen back to the depleted soil. Met a teacher who is involved with the Ullapool St Ayles skiff and a great chat about the community aspects of this. It will happen here.

Struggled to leave as I knew, as usual, there would be good craic after and would have to use one’s brain in keeping up a banter with these guys. So after many offers of Highland hospitality from Jean, the offer of a room to a flask of coffee for the journey home, had to be turned down and I made my escape, but not before meeting Noel outside and having a chat about fishing, SCFF www.scottishcreelfishermansfederation.co.uk/ and MPAs before turning down yet more offers of a place to crash.

So there I was driving through the rain with everything in overdrive, not the van as I followed a police car for twenty odd miles at a respectable distance and speed. Inspired, but knowing the huge problems of community work, realising that no matter what you do you will always be criticised, but aware that you are fortunate to know  some amazingly kind and considerate people. This with the Finlay Macdonald Band on the Ipod made for a “short” journey home.

And that is how I finished my day with a brief political/land /nation discussion, the good fortune we have to live in such a place amongst wonderful people. So important never to lose sight of this amongst all the hassles and carp of daily life.

Missing Creels hooked and Filmed.

Yesterday’s trip to Inverness was unavoidable due to lateness of accounts and a visit to the accountant became critical. There is not much to them but last year’s chaos has led to books being scattered to all four corners of the schoolhouse. Now gathered together and a two and a half hour session later meant that things are now under control again in that sector. The good thing was that we were speaking and very amicable by the end of this. She mentioned that she is treasurer for a local group and sat down the other night to do some work for a meeting and ended up working for hours trying to balance her books. So it is not just my affliction although I know of some strange people who actually enjoy keeping books. Always good to meet people and we ended up talking about parents suffering from dementia and other bits and bobs. We often elevate situations and issues above the people who are involved in them and it never works. Of all the lessons I learnt about the political situation last year in Applecross the two most important were that this place is timeless and all the huffing and puffing is hardly going to register in the historic timeline of the place. The LAS campaign has certainly left a little mark that cannot be erased and it is going to be interesting to watch the next chapter. More importantly whatever one’s views the desire to personalise issues must be resisted and I think we did that very well despite what was thrown around. It is the easiest advice in the world to give to two protagonists to step back and not be so personal and I remember being told this last year and found it so difficult to stand up for a belief or principle and not be accused of having agendas. I always assume that once people attack you personally then their grounds for debate are either lost or pretty shaky. A couple of regular guests are staying at the Inn just now and are up for lots of discussion, often quite provocative, and I was asked to answer really quickly would I vote yes next year. I did not answer that straight away although I am probably going to and immediately found myself trying to justify why. The questioner found it surprising that I took so long in replying but the vote is far more than a gut reaction. I think people who are not naturally Nationalist but are more concerned with a more localised system of democracy have to explain why they will vote in this way. And in almost every sphere of life the status quo is not an option. Even our “petitioners” last year found this out. I think being asked these difficult questions brought on this train of thought.

It is always good to have a ramble, back to Inverness, it was a visit to the upholsterer where I dropped of a chair from Toscaig. There was a discussion about it being still in the chair category, dog food stop, Highland Wholefoods and a haircut. Waterstones are an essential visit, just waiting for the JO Nesbo and Peter May books to become bendy. A trip to the Co op, the only supermarket I can allow myself to enter these days and off home, but not before picking up a couple of batteries at Dingbros. Arranged a sparky visit for tomorrow morning as my little electrical issues are beyond me. Entertainment is arranged for the afternoon as a Crofters Hearing is taking place at the Hall. Would have liked to have gone but needs must and it will be off fishing. Some people seem to exist to keep lawyers in a job.

Fishing today and it started uneventfully with me hauling 4 fleets and catching a few prawns and squats. Had Nick out with me and he filmed my operation for a few hours.IMG_1692

Nick himself is not sure how the filming will develop but intend to do three ten minute films about Applecross and putting people in them as well as the natural beauty of the place and not intending them to be commercial.


Easy guy to get on with. We did have similar views on sustainable fishing and nature in general so the day passed gently, serene was one word he used to describe the day, until I went to see if I could recover the lost fleet down by the Range. Kenny had already been in touch and I reckoned it was not going to be easy. Turned out the fleet was in one big ball and well out of position, the fleet I shot to try to hook it did but in between these two fleets was Kenny’s and this was all at 90 fathoms. Hauled my own top fleet up with a little trouble and took it west out of the way and then went back to the missing one. Kenny meantime hauled his and tried to clear it but had to give up but leant me a crew man for a while. It was just a case of methodically going through the bundle picking creels of one by one. Sore fore arms and a creel exchange later, eventually all my creels were on deck with a three-quarter mile of rope lying in one big tangle on deck.


So all that was left in the day was to scrape some mussels from under my dingy to make Moules Marinieres  for tea and head up to the Inn for a couple of hour and be grilled on whether I vote Yes or not!! It is good to feel the energy levels come back.

The trawl and Hillfolk.

Back from a little holiday in Inverness which started at 5 o’clock yesterday evening. Spent the day delivering a batch of prawns to Loch Ness Inn and ended up having a little run around trying to match up regulators to the right bottles to set up their barbecue for the ‘Torch.’ Then it was off to Inverness for a rapid run around picking up food and parts for the boat and myself ending up with keeping an appointment at half four. At the moment any time I sit down for more than five minutes I fall asleep. Inverness was pretty chaotic as there was Rockness, Curtis Cup, and the Olympic Flame. Although I had to park across town none of the above bothered or interested me. It was a great curry and to Eden Court to see Hillfolk Noir, a simply brilliant four piece band from Idaho. They rattled song after song off in a sometimes quirky style that included saw and washboard. Mix of bluesy. bluegrass americana and they worked hard. As the audience was low we got to speak to them at the interval and they were ‘sweet’ people, not used to the polite appreciation that we gave them.They were more used to raucous venues back home where they play over people drinking and enjoying themselves. Drove home arriving at midnight still smiling both inside and out. This for me is the sign of good music.

The later half of the week involved the usual Inn work and fishing with a little sleep in between. The fishing is going a little better although the poor way we carry out our custodianship of the sea became apparent on Wednesday/thursday. I have always made it clear that dredging and trawling should not be allowed in inshore waters and everything I say about it is backed up by science and anecdotally, that is observation by the fishermen themselves. Even the trawler men cannot tell me where the fish are now they have been allowed to trawl up to the shore. I can they have been caught by the prawn trawler at an immature size while they try to catch prawns. The ratio of them having to catch and kill 9 kgs of sea life to get 1 kg of prawns to market has never been justified to me. I have always tried to de-personalise the problem as we all know each other and I always have and will say that the prawn trawl is probably the worst thing that has happened locally in my lifetime. I always remember a conversation with a Norwegian fisherman/campsite owner about fishing both in his waters around the Lofotens and back home. It was really interesting until I told him that we allow our trawlers up to the shore and he looked at me almost with pity in that our government could be so ignorant and the conversation died a death. It does make you think when you get reactions from an informed outside source like that, although I fully agreed with him. On Wednesday two hundred yards away I find it slightly depressing that a trawler can quite legally tow past your gear.

It is important not to personalise the problem and I went to sea for the first time when this skipper had a creel boat in the 70s and I have every respect for him as a decent guy but what he does means that I no longer put creels on the ground that he and others have towed on until the end of the year as the ground will have been degraded so much that it needs that amount of time to recover. On thursday I got a radio call from another Applecross boat saying that he had just rescued one of his fleets that had been towed into on of mine. He had to leave most of his rope which was tangled up in my gear and just cut off his creels. So I have something to look forward to next week. To minimise my lost time I have to haul it last fleet of the day and it has to be flat calm. I lose fishing time as these creels will not be working and I have little time as it is to waste sorting some one else’s carelessness or malicious intent. Some trawlers actively want and try to tow creels out of their way so they can have a clear go at the ground. We know the name of the trawler and he did not respond and headed of north without acknowledging radio calls. What a fine specimen he is and he probably sleeps well too. This is only a side issue, the gear lose, it is the destruction of the habitat that most bothers me and as long as it happens then we will remain well below our maximum sustainable yield with many jobs lost and not created. With Marine Scotland telling us two weeks ago that they only found out that there is a large static gear inshore fleet there is little hope in that direction. Fishing static gear on the NW of Scotland is certainly character forming and it is still worthy employment. The sea environment is very much something to fight about. Maybe the fact that Marine Scotland do now know about us and are prepared to meet us without the mobile sector shouting us down is a small step in the right direction. There are other static gear men now talking about a re-introduction of a three/six-mile limit on mobile gear to allow a recovery of inshore stocks. A no brainer for me but now gathering momentum.

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