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The Highland Council is determined to ensure better management of coastal waters. Vice-Convener Dr Michael Foxley made the commitment in launching two new marine initiatives in Shieldaig, West Ross.

He said: “With more than 1,900 sq km of coastline – 49% of the Scottish mainland  coastline – we have a large area to safeguard and manage.  We have promoted and strongly supported regulatory orders to allow local fishermen to manage the inshore shellfish fishery and we continue to lead the campaign to control the passage of hazardous cargoes in our waters.”

Left to Right - Janet Bromham, Highland Biodiversity Officer; Dafydd Morris, Fisheries Development Officer, Chairman of the Sustainable Select Committee,
Cllr Ian Ross; Local Councillor Ewen MacKinnon; Nicole Wallace from the Leader+ Programme;
Karen Starr, Shieldaig Export and Vice Convener, Cllr Michael Foxley

This action would be complemented by the Highland Marine Resources and Communities Scheme (HiMaRCS) -  a new Council-led grant scheme, which receives additional funding from the North Highland Leader+ programme and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, to help support communities and businesses working in the marine sector - and the 2003 round of the Highland Biodiversity Project’s Marine Innovation Awards, which reward projects and companies for innovation and best practice in the sustainable use of our coasts and inshore waters.

While in Shieldaig, Councillor Foxley met representatives of Shieldaig Export Ltd,  joint winners of last year’s Marine Innovation Award fishing category. Shieldaig Export Ltd were awarded £1,000 for their project to fit escape panels to all creels used by boats landing prawns in the Torridon Nephrops Creel Fishery.

The fishery is the first in Scotland to gain the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard for well-managed and environmentally sustainable fisheries. At the end of this month, Shieldaig Export hopes to gain the right to market these prawns under the MSC banner.

Councillor Foxley said: “The creel escape panels are an excellent example of how to make a fishery more sustainable.”

Both schemes are open to individuals, companies, community groups and schools for innovative projects that demonstrate best practice in the sustainable use of Highland coasts and inshore waters. 

HiMaRCS receives support from Highlands & Islands Enterprise and the European Union Leader + Programme, and was drawn up following the success of last year’s pilot Marine Innovation Award. HiMaRCS is a grant scheme focusing on project development, and offers rates of between 30 and 80% funding, up to a maximum of £10,000.

The Marine Innovation Award aims to reward projects and companies for new ideas and good environmental practices that are already taking place around our coasts and inshore waters.  There are three categories: fishing, aquaculture and general marine environment.  The awards themselves take the form of a cheque to the value of £2,500, to be used to develop the business or project in some way.

Councillor Foxley said: “We hope these schemes will encourage businesses to look at how they use the environment and to investigate different ways of reducing their impacts on our waters.  Land owners and managers receive grants for positive environmental works on land, and I welcome the efforts of the Council and the Highland Biodiversity Project in trialling a similar approach in the sea. “The overall aim is to encourage everyone working in the marine sector to use the environment in a more sustainable manner.  We are looking for entries from on-going projects, or companies with novel ideas that need a little extra funding to get started.”

Councillor Ian Ross, Chairman of The Highland Council’s Sustainable Development Select Committee said: “Our marine environment is very important in economic, social and environmental terms.  It  contains an outstanding range of rare habitats and species, such as tall sea pens and maerl, which are extremely vulnerable to activities such as inshore dredging and trawling.  I am particularly pleased that Shieldaig Export and companies like them are receiving recognition through this Award Scheme for their good work in working towards the sustainable management of our inshore fisheries.”

Local Councillor Ewen Mackinnon welcomed the two schemes, and highlighted the difficulties in getting marine projects off the ground: “It has taken a lot of time and hard work for Shieldaig Export to get their project off the ground, and it is fitting that we are launching these two new schemes in Shieldaig near to where the prawns are landed, packed and made ready for the market.  I hope that many more marine companies and communities will benefit from them in the years ahead.”