Prawn Wars

I was impressed by the BBC Scotland Landward special, “Prawn Wars”, still available on iPlayer until Wednesday.

I thought I was well-informed about Scottish fishing issues, a subject I first encountered in long “Church and Nation” reports at the Church of Scotland General Assembly, agonising about the state of Scottish coastal parishes. Earlier this year I discovered the excellent visitor interpretation at FSC Millport, which highlights the impact of scallop dredging on the delicate ecosystems of the Firth of Clyde estuary, and lets you practice sustainable hand-diving of scuttling scallops in big Belfast sinks.

However, I felt much better briefed after the Landward special, which discusses the similar conflict between trawlers and creelers fishing prawns off the west coast of Scotland. It is in-depth and impartial, exploring the interrelations between sustainability, economics and human communities.

The most important thing I learned was that in the nineteenth century a three-mile limit on trawling in inshore waters was established to conserve fisheries, regulation removed by the Thatcher government in 1984.

It also made me look again at a picture on my wall, painted around 1980 by my grandmother Margaret Jackson who was inspired by the Scottish artist Lowry.

It depicts a Scottish fishing community, although it is not on the west coast, but North Berwick, on the east. It’s based on a real scene, although there is not a little dash of fantasy. I believe that may be myself, being pushed in a buggy by my mum in red trousers.

Although the harbour is busy, the fishing industry seems to be struggling. One of the fishermen has retired to take tourist excursions to the Bass Rock. The boat in the foreground, which seems to be a trawler, has caught some rare bycatch. The little boats on the right, which look busy and businesslike, are perhaps creelers, enjoying the last few years of protected fishing.

Perhaps this fantasy scene of pipe-bands and mermaids does not add much to our understanding of the “prawn wars”. But, painted at a crucial moment in the history of Scottish fishing, it captures the entanglement of economics, employment, environment, tourism, history, and romance which form the human ecosystem of the Scottish coast.

Thank you, Landward, for making the picture so much more interesting.