Roc Sandford, Round and About Mull, 1st May 2012

A salmon farm for Gometra?

 

I’d like to say something about us for those who don’t know the island.  Gometra lies in what used to be called Loch Staffa (and I believe still should be) between Staffa, Treshnish Isles, Ulva and Mull.  When I came 20 years ago, the island was deserted and had one habitable house.  It was 2 ½ hours return journey for me to reach my nearest human neighbour on Ulva.  Since then we have built up the flock and the fold and are continually fixing up the houses, and there are currently four households with five adults, including myself (I live here part time) and excluding children and the many people who come regularly to help us for shorter periods, or the dozens who have lived here but have now moved on.  We none of us have electricity in our homes, and there are no cars on the island.  We do not have a doctor or a teacher, there is no public transport, a weekly postal service, and we do not have reliable landline, mobile or internet.  Gometra is a fragile community in the fullest sense, amongst the remotest in Scotland, and I believe deserving of national respect.

 

The engine of the Gometra boat was broken for several months this winter, which has given rise to misunderstandings about transport.  When the Gometra boat sinks, as it has once, or goes on the rocks, as it has twice, or won’t start, as it has countless times, we go by land.  It is 5 hours rough walk (return) across Ulva to Ulva pier, and it is true that we sometimes walk this way, by day and night, in all weather, carrying our messages.  It is of the order of three hours return to travel this route by quad and light trailer at some states of tide, otherwise longer.  This is not like being in a car for three hours, but more like being in a washing machine set to cold, above all in winter.  Without a trailer, the quad takes just under two hours return to Ulva pier, but can’t carry much.  It is  between 40 minutes to one and half hours each way door to door by boat to the Isle of Mull, depending on the sea and tide (and whether we get drawn astray by the pods of bottlenose dolphins hanging around Gometra, miss the tide, ground trying to get to Gometra pier and get soaked in freezing water wading ashore with our messages, as happened today).  We transport all large farm loads – cattle feeding, gates, fencing and building materials, lambs, cast ewes – by boat, usually using Gometra’s North Harbour, weather permitting.  We walk our cattle and take our pigs across Ulva, and also cross Ulva with the small amounts we can take by quad – maybe a few bags or feeding for the cattle, messages brought from Salen, or the Gometra mail.  Anyone running a household or even a farm who puts themselves in our shoes will concede that it cannot be easy.  Once we get to Ulva pier, we still have to row to Mull or cross in the ferry to get to shop or surgery in Salen or Dervaig, without public transport.

 

I have written to the Scotsman saying the best thing about the salmon farm industry is the people who work in it and I stand by this view.  However, all of us here feel that the idea of a salmon farm is wrong for this island.  Salmon farm developers have tried to site three other farms near Gometra.  All were successfully opposed (with the support of the island’s last native Gaelic speaker and many, many others from Ulva, Mull and further afield, all of whom, whether they were in favour of the salmon industry or against, believed that Gometra was NOT the place).  But the salmon industry won't take no for an answer.  The current plan dangerously obstructs our sea route to the Isle of Mull, would strike at our viability and devastate the experience of living here.  We have a petition, signed by the nearly 500 people, at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/savestaffaarchipelago/  We would request anyone who agrees should sign.

 

Gometra is not alone.  All through the Hebrides, on Eigg, Islay, Lewis, Seil, Colonsay, Rum, and Arran , communities give up their time to fight planned salmon farms, many from the Scottish Salmon Company.   This opposition didn’t spring up for no reason, but through experience, shared by communities worldwide, about the problems the industry brings.  Shore based contained salmon aquaculture (now entering commercial production, where pollution is contained and treated, escapes are impossible, seal culling is unnecessary and salmon and sea trout are not infected with sea lice) is the future.  Meanwhile, everyone is entitled to their own view, both for and against.  On some of these islands, including Mull, the salmon farms have supporters unconnected with the industry.  But not on others.  On Eigg, for instance, a few months back, 98% voted against the Scottish Salmon Company salmon farm, 2% in favour.  On Gometra, our small community is 100% against a Scottish Salmon Company farm here.  No one could claim it is right to force a salmon farm on an island which does not want it.  We have formally asked for a community council of our own, so that our voices might be heard, but Argyll and Bute Council turned us down and the Isle of Mull Community Council has very kindly taken the role of representing the Isle of Gometra.  MCC do an amazing job for Mull, which is an amazing island, but this island must have a voice too.  Should a dangerous and unwanted salmon farm be forced on us, we will continue the fight until it is taken away.

 

 

Roc Sandford, Isle of Gometra, gometrafarm@mac.com