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!