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Jacqueline McDonell

News from Mallaig Harbour: March 2021

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We are still under the ‘Stay at Home’ restrictions as I write, so staffing remains the same as last month, with the office closed – although there is normally someone in, and less staff on the Pier than there would be normally.

Last March we were encouraging everyone to make use of the additional sailings between Mallaig and Armadale, which were to be trialled in March 2020, March 2021 and March 2022. As some of you will be aware, CalMac had been asked to look at potential reductions to the timetable throughout the Network whilst restrictions are still in place. One result of this is that the additional sailings between Mallaig and Armadale will not go ahead this year. Given that our Tourism businesses are still closed and that travel remains for essential purposes only, it would have been difficult to justify these additional sailings, which require an additional vessel to operate. Latest information is that the Winter timetables will be extended to 25th April, with a review mid-March into what the timetables should be from 26th April.

This month has consisted of a lot of background work into the various developments that we hope to undertake around the Harbour. It’s felt like slow progress at times, as everything is so interlinked, but hopefully by the end of the summer you will be starting to notice some visible progress with things like the passenger shelter at the new pontoon and new road markings, especially throughout the ferry marshalling area, which are all part of the traffic management plan for the ferries. One immediate impact from this traffic management plan was CalMac relocating the freight store for the Small Isles to behind the CalMac office, which is designed to reduce the number of delivery vans and lorries having to cross the marshalling area during the busy summer months. Although it might seem strange that the works are getting done now, when the ferry has never been so quiet, it’s a good opportunity to do them with minimum disruption.

The difficulties for our fishing industry associated with Brexit have been well documented, and last month I outlined the impact there has been on landings in Mallaig, mainly due to Coronavirus, but with Brexit as an added layer of complications. Whilst those in the industry were all aware that there would be an increase in paperwork associated with Brexit, the volume and complexity of this paperwork has caused significant issues over the last couple of months. For our smaller vessels, whose catch is likely to end up on a lorry with catch from several other vessels, this has been a particular problem. Whilst the paperwork is designed to provide traceability from the vessel to the final market, and is all well intentioned, the practicalities of adhering to it meant that in January exporters combining catches from several vessels into one consignment shut down their operations for a period, effectively meaning that there was no market for the catch being landed. This has now eased to an extent, but prices are still low. At the beginning of February, the Scottish Government announced additional funding which included £6.45 million for the Seafood Producers Resilience Fund to directly support fishing vessels and aquaculture businesses; £300,000 to assist the welfare and support activities of the Fishermen’s Mission; and £1million to support the investment plans of ports and harbours. Mallaig Harbour Authority has successfully applied for £180,000 to install shore power for our fishing fleet, which has to be spent by the end of the financial year.  

On 20th February, we welcomed the Ronja Christopher for her first visit to Mallaig. The Ronja Christopher one of the latest additions to the Sølvtrans fleet, built in 2020, and was in Mallaig to load smolts. She is 70m long, with a beam of 18m, so is one of the largest in the fleet.

Last month’s Westword (our local Community Newspaper) included a consultation from Mallaig Community Council about parking in Mallaig. As a Harbour, we know that this is a contentious issue. Mallaig wasn’t designed for the number of vehicles that are on the road now, and the village is also in the unique position of having a number of communities (Small Isles and Knoydart) who have to park in Mallaig in addition to the more local residents. Over the years, the Harbour has had a number of requests for additional parking, and we did have a request from the Community Council in December to consider creating additional parking as part of the new development that we have been discussion for the Outer Harbour. Mallaig Harbour already provides in excess of 85 parking spaces, mainly on a permit system, and we have a waiting list for these spaces, so we know that there is demand for more. These spaces are used by Harbour users, including fishermen; local businesses; and residents from the Small Isles and Knoydart. However, providing car parking is not actually an efficient use of Harbour land either in terms of the commercial demands on the limited space we have, or the income to Mallaig Harbour. As a result, we are not intending to provide any additional parking, except to service new buildings that might come about as part of the new development. We would encourage everyone with an interest to make their views known, as it all helps the Community Council strengthen any case for additional parking to Highland Council and the Scottish Government.   

Jacqueline McDonell

News from Mallaig Harbour: February 2021

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I wrote last month’s news between Christmas and New Year, before the new restrictions had been imposed on us all, so by the time you read it, it would have already been out of date! Most of our staff are now working part-time and are back on furlough for the remaining hours. This means that, although there are usually two members of staff on the Harbour, it might take us a bit longer than usual to get things done. The office is closed, but someone will be in and out periodically, and you can still contact us by phone or email. It is slightly different to the first lockdown, in that the ferries are still operating and the fishing boats are not tied up in the way they were last March, but it’s still much quieter than we would expect.

Because I wrote last month’s piece before New Year, I also didn’t get the chance to thank the crew of the Ronja Commander for their amazing fireworks display at midnight on Hogmanay. Those of us who are lucky enough to overlook the Harbour were treated to almost 10 minutes of fireworks, which was definitely the highlight of an otherwise very strange Hogmanay!

The Sprat fishery continued into January, with the last landings on the evening of Tuesday 12th January. I mentioned last month the uncertainty around Brexit, and the difficult start to the year has been well documented elsewhere, but I have spent quite a bit of this month gathering facts and figures to evidence calls for support for the fishing industry. The issues around paperwork and difficulties exporting have added an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging market for our fishermen. We now have all the landing figures for the year, and for calendar year 2019, landings through Mallaig totalled £4,768million, £3.919million of which was shellfish, £525k white fish, and £325k pelagic. In 2020 the equivalent figure was £1,402million, of which £1.084million was shellfish, £88k White fish and £231k pelagic. This is a reduction of 70% in a year, and while it impacts on the Harbour, it has much wider impacts for the community, and all those connected to the fishing fleet.  

In more positive news, we have been awarded funding through the Ferries Accessible fund to install a passenger shelter at the top of the new passenger pontoon. We’ve commissioned Falco, who installed the shelters for CalMac in 2019, and we’re hopeful of having the shelter installed in the Spring. Thanks to those on Knoydart and the Small Isles, and the Lochaber Disability Access Panel who have been working with us, and who provided letters of support for our applications.

We have also received information on the COVID-19 Marine and Outdoor Tourism Restart Fund, which is intended to provide support to marine and outdoor tourism businesses significantly affected by COVID-19 and are faced with seasonal re-commissioning and re-start costs ahead of the 2021 season. The guidance document is now available to check if you’re eligible – https://www.visitscotland.org/supporting-your-business/funding/marine-outdoor-restart-fund. It’s a short turnaround from when the fund opens for applications at 12pm on 2 February until it closes at 5pm on 9 February, so worth looking at beforehand.

Finally, just a wee reminder to parents that if your children are playing on the pier, especially in the evenings when boats are landing, please remind them to keep out of the way of where boats are landing and forklifts operating – for their own safety!

Jacqueline McDonell

News from Mallaig Harbour: January 2021

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When I looked back on last January’s news, it started with ‘Happy New Year’. I don’t think any of us could have predicted then just what a strange year it would become! We have been relatively fortunate at Mallaig Harbour Authority and have continued to operate throughout the year, providing essential services for both the fishing and aquaculture industries, and also infrastructure for the lifeline ferry services that operate from Mallaig. Although we furloughed some of our staff during the initial lockdown, since August all have been back at work.

The Sprat fishery has continued throughout December, it’s been a bit patchy, but overall fairly successful. I know Robert has the landing figures elsewhere in WestWord so I won’t repeat them here. However, some of you may have seen the photos of the old scallop nets and lanterns which became entangled in the sprat nets mid-month. These were from an early attempt at scallop farming and had been abandoned around 20 years ago, with no warning that they were on the sea bed. They caused a lot of damage to the sprat nets, and put the boats at significant risk – they were fortunate that it was a calm night and they were able to haul the nets aboard, albeit totally entangled. There are always debates about aquaculture and fishing co-existing, and about the amount of waste in the seas, and this was a stark example of waste from one industry causing damage and incurring costs for another.

The Sprats have been a welcome boost to the end of year fishing. January and February of 2020 brought stormy weather, and the boats were just getting back to sea in March when lockdown began and the markets crashed meaning that the boats were tied up once again. As a result, this has been one of the poorest years ever for fish landings. The announcement of a trade deal with the EU on 24th December means that, outwith coronavirus restrictions, access to markets in the EU will be maintained, but the restrictions around catching and quotas etc. have still to be finalised as I am writing this.

Looking back at the year, it’s not just the fishing that has been much quieter. Although the figures for CalMac ferry carryings have not been published for 2020 yet, we know that these are well down because of restrictions. As an example, in August 2019, 64,444 passengers travelled through Mallaig, and 14,015 cars. The equivalent figures for August 2020 were 22,247 passengers and 7,808 cars. Given that this was the first full month that restrictions were eased, it shows the scale of the difference. Cal Mac have published their timetable for the coming season, which is broadly similar to previous years (excluding the restrictions of 2020), with both the Lord of the Isles and the Loch Fyne sailing from Mallaig to Armadale, but with the LoTI returning earlier to Lochboisdale so doing one less sailing to Armadale (2 instead of 3) and the Loch Fyne also doing one less sailing between Mallaig and Armadale each afternoon (presumably to allow the LoTI to load the Lochboisdale vehicles at the earlier time in Mallaig). There are also almost 60 days of tidal restrictions throughout the summer timetable. The reduction in sailings results in a reduction of car spaces available from 726 daily in 2019 to 556 in 2021, a reduction of 23.5%. However, given the ongoing uncertainties about travel, this may not have too big an impact. Positively, the trial of additional sailings in March is continuing this year, with a minimum of 4 sailings each day from 1st to 25th March, and as many as seven return journeys on some days. You can find details of these at https://www.calmac.co.uk/mallaig-armadale-additional-sailings-march-2021

 We did also manage a short season at the Marina, from the end July to October, with a total of 547 occupied nights and 359 vessels. This compares to a total of 1,429 occupied nights and 1,069 vessels in 2019 – approximately 1/3 in 2020. We know that the Marina season normally starts April, and that May, June and July are busy months for us, so again this is not surprising!

Work has been ongoing in the background on the proposed development for the Outer Breakwater, with a dive team visiting in early December to do some work on the feasibility of dredging the Outer Harbour to make it slightly deeper. We were also successful in our application for a loan from the Energy Savings Trust to convert all the Harbour lighting to LED. This is the first step in reducing our carbon footprint and improving energy efficiency at the harbour. The marine grade LED fittings need to be manufactured to order so there is a long lead time, but we hope to have all the lighting converted by early Spring.

We have also finally completed some of the maintenance works that were postponed due to lockdown in March, with the facings replaced on the Loch Nevis berth and replacement and repairs to ladders and bollards in the Outer Harbour.

Our Harbour staff once again supported the Community Council to put up the Christmas lights and the tree early in December so thanks to them for doing this.

I also started last January’s news by mentioning that we had been due a visit from the Screen Machine which had been cancelled due to stormy weather. This January we were also due a visit on 6th and 7th but this has obviously been cancelled due to the new restrictions in force since Boxing Day. The November visit had to be cancelled because the ferry was unable to sail, so hopefully it won’t be too long before we are able to welcome back Screen Machine!

I’ll end by wishing everyone a Happy New Year this month, lets hope 2021 becomes a bit better year than 2020 did. Hopefully the calm, clear weather so far is a good omen! 

Jacqueline McDonell