Reflections on Gairloch

One evening last week we visited with some friends who were holidaying in a mobile (or rather, immobile) holiday home / caravan on the hill above Big Sand on Gairloch. We had a really fine time. Great food, great Isle of Jura, great craic with just enough controversy to spice it up - especially when the subject of Ian Rankin's novels came up and I said I had only read one of them. 'Why?' asked our lovely hostess. 'Because I didn't like it,' said I, much to her dismay. I didn't or couldn't explain why I didn't like what I had read because any such explanation would seem like an attempt to shine up my own literary offerings. Any such self-aggrandisement may be quite OK in these days of false celebrity but I was taught, and still live by the idea that you are what you do, not what you say or even imply what you do, even less what you are worth in terms of wallet.

The weather had been for days or weeks absolutely atrocious but we sat there in warmth and comfort from early to late evening, feeling a million dollars. While the light lasted I could look directly down on to the half mile wide channel between Longa Island and the mainland. I could pick out the exact spot from which, whilst fishing from our boat Culash ('little fly') my son Robert caught a British record dab (limanda limanda to the initiated). This fish weighed in at two pounds twelve ouces and four drams and, so far as I know, still in the Guiness Book of Records and is, so far as I know, still in the Natural History Museum in Glasgow; which is where we delivered it on our way home after that 1974 holiday.

During that first of our Gairloch holidays we caught fifteen species of fish inside this loch, most of them of specimen size (i.e. within ten percent of the British record). The sea was literally abounding with fish, many of them coming to spawn either in the fifty metre deeps or the shallow sandy shelves like those Longa straits I was looking down on from the caravan. However, a few years later the place seemed a lifeless seawater desert. I was told that trawlers had illegally, and with impunity, trawled the whole breeding grounds. Worse still, that a French suction dredger had 'harvested' the razor fish beds, had made a fortune in short order and had buggered off, leaving behind the equivalent underwater of a ploughed field where once had been a green pastureland. Wonderful. At the time nobody seemed overmuch to care.

I've heard rumblings of late about making the three lochs - Loch Torridon, Gairloch, Loch Ewe - into a Marine Park. A brilliant idea but one that, if it progresses at all, will take years and years of politicking to enact; in the way of all things under our antiquated, so-called democratic system. The only people caring strongly enough to take a side are obviously the fisherfolk, who don't seem able to - or wanting to - have a look, for instance, at what salmon farming has actually done for the commercial 'worth' of Wester-Ross. Up here the only meaningful industry as such is that of tourism. A marine park would bring them in their thousands and thousands. Furthermore the lochs would revert to their historic role as the breeding grounds for fish that would then be caught in far greater numbers outside the 'park'. If you don't believe it, key in New Zealand Marine Parks on your PC. And read the book called 'The End Of The Line'. Frightening. Eye-opening. More importantly a call to action. Please, Holyrood. Please, Westminster, Please, Brussels; please, anyone.

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