Save our seas

The fishermen come, they take a few decent fish, and they throw the rest away. And at the moment the

This past week a trawler has been fishing around the south end of the island. It has come remarkably close to the shore – sometimes as near as a quarter of a mile. Back and forth it has gone, day and night, scooping up everything it could find. On Friday evening it was joined by three others.

Once onboard, many (perhaps most) of the fish will have been thrown back into the sea dead, because they were undersized. Illogical European laws, intended to protect fish stocks, allow – the fishermen would say encourage – this waste.

Fish stocks around Fair Isle have been steadily depleting over the years. The sea used to provide a living to many of the families on the island, but now it has little to offer. Seabird populations are suffering too, and though the reasons for this decline are complex and not fully understood, hunger is a very real and serious part of the problem.

The fishermen come, they take a few decent fish, and they throw the rest away. And at the moment there is nothing we can do about it.

For more than two decades Fair Isle has been calling for some form of protection for the seas around the island. The marine environment has been, and remains, a crucial part of the island’s sustainability, but it is seriously threatened by over-fishing and also by oil-related shipping in the Fair Isle Channel.
In 1985 the island was awarded a European Diploma by the Council of Europe, and it has since been renewed four times. This award is intended to recognise “protected natural or semi-natural areas of exceptional European interest from the point of view of conservation of biological, geological or landscape diversity that have an appropriate protection status.”

In Fair Isle’s case, the diploma was given “aesthetically because of the beauty of the landscape; culturally because of the existence of a prosperous farming community . . . and scientifically because the island is an important breeding site for seabird populations and a crossroads for certain migratory species”.

Only five areas in the UK have received a European Diploma – the Peak District National Park, Minsmere Nature Reserve, the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, Purbeck Heritage Coast, and Fair Isle. Each of these areas is subject to significant levels of protection for the natural environment. Fair Isle itself is a “National Scenic Area”, and parts of the island are designated as a “Special Protection Area” because of the importance of the bird life.

When renewing the diploma however, the Council of Europe made several recommendations that it felt were essential in order to maintain or improve the situation here. Most important among these were several measures designed to protect the marine environment. Although the UK is meant to take the directives very seriously indeed, so far it has chosen to ignore them.

Much work has been done locally in order to try and push for greater protection of the seas around the island. The Fair Isle Marine Environment and Tourism Initiative has done their best to keep things moving, but it can be frustrating to witness, time and again, the ineptitude of those whose job it is to make the decisions that affect us.

The Scottish Executive has been talking for some time about creating the UK’s first Marine National Park. Fair Isle, of course, would seem a natural contender. But despite Shetland being on the long-list of areas under consideration, and despite the fact that this is probably the only community in Scotland that is entirely united in its desire to be chosen, the signs do not look good.

Fair Isle is crying out for protection. How long before somebody listens?

Photograph by Dave Wheeler

Malachy Tallack is 26 and lives in Fair Isle. He is a singer-songwriter, journalist, and editor of the magazine Shetland Life.
Photo: Getty
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The Liverpool protest was about finding a place for local support in a global game

Fans of other clubs should learn from Anfield's collective action.

One of the oldest songs associated with Liverpool Football Club is Poor Scouser Tommy, a characteristically emotional tale about a Liverpool fan whose last words as he lies dying on a WWII battlefield are an exhalation of pride in his football team.

In November 2014, at the start of a game against Stoke City, Liverpool fans unfurled a banner across the front of the Kop stand, daubed with the first line of that song: “Let me tell you a story of a poor boy”. But the poor boy wasn’t Tommy this time; it was any one of the fans holding the banner – a reference to escalating ticket prices at Anfield. The average matchday ticket in 1990 cost £4. Now a general admission ticket can cost as much as £59.

Last Saturday’s protest was more forthright. Liverpool had announced a new pricing structure from next season, which was to raise the price of the most expensive ticket to £77. Furious Liverpool fans said this represented a tipping point. So, in the 77th minute of Saturday’s match with Sunderland, an estimated 15,000 of the 44,000 fans present walked out. As they walked out, they chanted at the club’s owners: “You greedy bastards, enough is enough”.

The protest was triggered by the proposed price increase for next season, but the context stretches back over 20 years. In 1992, the top 22 clubs from the 92-club Football League broke away, establishing commercial independence. This enabled English football’s elite clubs to sign their own lucrative deal licensing television rights to Rupert Murdoch’s struggling satellite broadcaster, Sky.

The original TV deal gave the Premier League £191 million over five years. Last year, Sky and BT agreed to pay a combined total of £5.14 billion for just three more years of domestic coverage. The league is also televised in 212 territories worldwide, with a total audience of 4.7 billion. English football, not so long ago a pariah sport in polite society, is now a globalised mega-industry. Fanbases are enormous: Liverpool may only crowd 45,000 fans into its stadium on matchday, but it boasts nearly 600 million fans across the globe.

The matchgoing football fan has benefited from much of this boom. Higher revenues have meant that English teams have played host to many of the best players from all over the world. But the transformation of local institutions with geographic support into global commercial powerhouses with dizzying arrays of sponsorship partners (Manchester United has an ‘Official Global Noodle Partner’) has encouraged clubs to hike up prices for stadium admission as revenues have increased.

Many hoped that the scale of the most recent television deal would offer propitious circumstances for clubs to reduce prices for general admission to the stadium while only sacrificing a negligible portion of their overall revenues. Over a 13-month consultation period on the new ticket prices, supporter representatives put this case to Liverpool’s executives. They were ignored.

Ignored until Saturday, that is. Liverpool’s owners, a Boston-based consortium who have generally been popular on Merseyside after they won a legal battle to prize the club from its previous American owners, backed down last night in supplicatory language: they apologised for the “distress” caused by the new pricing plan, and extolled the “unique and sacred relationship between Liverpool Football Club and its supporters”.

The conflict in Liverpool between fans and club administrators has ended, at least for now, but the wail of discontent at Anfield last week was not just about prices. It was another symptom of the broader struggle to find a place for the local fan base in a globalised mega-industry.The lazy canard that football has become a business is only half-true. For the oligarchs and financiers who buy and sell top clubs, football is clearly business. But an ordinary business has free and rational consumers. Football fans are anything but rational. Once the romantic bond between fan and team has been forged, it does not vanish. If the prices rise too high, a Liverpool fan does not decide to support Everton instead.

Yet the success of the protest shows that fans retain some power. Football’s metamorphosis from a game to be played into a product to be sold is irreversible, but the fans are part of that product. When English football enthusiasts wake in the small hours in Melbourne to watch a match, part of the package on their screen is a stadium full of raucous supporters. And anyone who has ever met someone on another continent who has never travelled to the UK but is a diehard supporter of their team knows that fans in other countries see themselves as an extension of the local support, not its replacement.

English football fans should harness what power they have remaining and unite to secure a better deal for match goers. When Liverpool fans walked out on Saturday, too many supporters of other teams took it as an opportunity for partisan mockery. In football, collective action works not just on the pitch but off it too. Liverpool fans have realised that. Football fandom as a whole should take a leaf out of their book.