By Roger Hutchinson
“Our boats were tied up even before the lockdown,” says Duncan McAndrew. “Sixty percent of our catch went to France, and the day that France closed its borders our market all but disappeared.”
Duncan is a creel fisher from Plockton.
Along with many of his colleagues throughout the region, rather than go completely out of business he has taken to selling directly to local people, with results that are rewarding in more ways than one.
“It’s no good to us creelmen just keeping the boats tied up,” says Duncan. “Apart from anything else, we have to check on our gear.
“I have £20,000 worth of gear out there and I can’t just leave it sitting on the seabed. I have to go out anyway.
“So I asked a few people locally if they wanted to buy prawns, and I put something up on Facebook.
“And the response was fantastic.”
Local resident Kyla Orr was down at Plockton harbour when Duncan McAndrew sold his first catch in the village early in April.
Like him, she was pleasantly surprised by what she saw.
“There was a queue from Duncan’s boat all the way down the pontoon and into the street,” she says.
“There was clearly a demand.
“We noticed that other fishers in Skye and Lochalsh, such as Bally Philp in Kyleakin, were also selling locally, just to keep the boats working and to keep some money coming in.”
Kyla is a marine and fisheries consultant who was already in touch with local inshore fishermen.
“There was all this activity,” she says, “but it was all being done piecemeal, it was disconnected.
“I contacted them and suggested a central notice board, a website to advertise what was being offered and where.”
So www.localshellfishsales.com was created and launched.
Half-a-dozen creel boats from throughout Lochalsh and Skye, from Plockton to Dunvegan, quickly became involved.
They would sell their catch at quaysides and make deliveries, and post information about their services on the website.
There is of course no charge for fishermen posting information on www.localshellfishsales.com, and the website contains a seafood recipe section to which residents are invited to contribute.
The fishermen divided up the region to make sure that, without standing on each other’s toes, most townships are covered by their deliveries or quayside sales.
“It was all a bit disjointed at first,” says Duncan McAndrew. “Then off her own bat Kyla put up the website, and it’s done the job.
“Nobody is making much money, but it’s taken the edge off the hardship, and it keeps the boats at work.
“It has also shown us that there’s a market here, not only in the north-west but probably across Scotland.
“People have been very enthusiastic and want to buy from us.
“Today I’m needing 30 kilograms of langoustines for 17 or 18 customers. Once I’ve landed them, that’s me for the day – it’s a day’s wage and a few bills paid.
“There’s also an opportunity, once things calm down, to open up that market properly instead of just sending everything to France and Spain.
“There’s no reason why we can’t continue.”
ACROSS THE Minch in South Uist, David Steele established Uist Shellfish at the end of last year, with a view to wholesaling and retailing seafood caught by Uist boats.
“Back then we thought there’d be a tourist season in 2020,” says David.
“There isn’t, of course, and so we’re selling just to other islanders – and the response is wonderful.
“We’re selling the lobster catch from my creels, and buying scallops from local divers and other catches from other boats, and my brothers and father, Paul and Ruaraidh and Donald, are working on my uncle Iagan Campbell’s trawler, so we’re getting fish from them.”
David hasn’t yet set up a website – “that’ll be for Paul to do” – so at present he advertises his produce and itinerary on his Uist Shellfish page on Facebook and Instagram.
As well as selling at quaysides, every Friday he delivers to 30 or 40 households between Eriskay and Benbecula.
Like Duncan McAndrew in Plockton, David Steele finds that while there is no fortune to be made, “it allows the boats to fish. And it’s fantastic to see local people enjoying the fresh seafood and looking for it every week.
“After the pandemic we can hopefully expand the enterprise, selling not only locally but across Scotland. We might just begin to make a profit then!”