2015 Goldman Prize winner Howard Wood spearheaded a campaign that established the first community-developed Marine Protected Area in Scotland, giving citizens a voice in a debate that has been dominated by the commercial fishing industry.
On June 11, Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, announced that a Marine Conservation Order (MCO) will be put before Scottish parliament setting out conservation measures including banning the highly destructive practice of scallop dredging within the South Arran Marine Protected Area and other west coast MPAs. COAST, Wood’s organization, has campaigned hard to end this damaging activity in Arran’s MPA. He congratulated the Minister on listening to coastal communities, marine scientists and economists on this issue.
We sat down with Wood to find out more about his campaign to protect Scotland’s marine areas.
Before your campaign, there was no mechanism in Scotland or England for the community to go and apply for a marine reserve. You had to pave the path with the first NTZ. What were some of the initial difficulties you encountered?
“My proposals and research got attacked for 18 months, saying that it was absolute rubbish. But that’s what happens, it’s been happening for years. People in the community always say to me, ‘we’ve already got an MPA, why are these fishing boats still here?’ There’s already a line on the chart, but there isn’t effective management within that line.”
“It takes years upon years of giving talks to local groups, educational tours to the schools and eventually, you get widespread support. Now, the support [for COAST] on Arran is so widespread that I can count on one hand the people on the island I know who are not supportive. That’s on one hand! I know the trouble makers on the island. There used to be five and there’s only four now.”
Can you recall a moment or two where there was a big setback in your campaign, or, you just felt like giving up?
“That happens all the time. It happened today, and it happened last week, and when the government finally revealed what their proposals are for the MPA… You look at it and you think, this is absolutely crazy, we haven’t moved anywhere. They’re still backing scallop dredging in a marine protected area. So it’s constant. It’s been easy to find instances where we’ve been extremely depressed.”
“Where COAST has been successful is bringing communities like Arran and elsewhere together so the general public have more say and are listened to in marine matters. In the past, the only voice that was listened to was the voice of the big fishing industry.
The big fishing industry has to have a voice, and I don’t have a problem with that at all, it’s just that it has to be balanced with other stakeholders like the small fishermen, sea anglers, locals who use the sea for tourism and wildlife.
So where COAST has been successful is years upon years of community support behind us and it means that we can go to politicians and Marine Scotland, and they realize that we are slowly becoming more powerful, which was never the case until a few years ago.”
For a closer look at Howard and COAST’s work, check out the infographic below: