Scalpay: Last of the Fishermen

"Far nach bi an-o'g cha bhi an sean - If there isno young, there will be no old" David Morison. Scaplay Fisherman, my Uncle.

Coastal communities around the world are diminishing year after year as more and more young people leave their home and heritage to find work. The fishing industry is not what it once was: the communities have seen the erosion and the end of their culture due to overfishing and large fishing draggers and fish factories that continue to dominate. Coastal and island communities dependent on the ocean and traditional fishing methods are being swallowed up by the modern world.

Scalpay: Last of the Fishermen’ is a story of a remote island in the Hebrides of Scotland. Having left Scotland, whenever I returned, I noticed change. This is something that intrigued me as a Scottish person. These changes were happening very quickly.

I had noticed how my home town of Inverness had taken on a different dynamic. It had become a very diverse community with the influx of Eastern Europeans which was something I could relate to – my Swedish mother moved to Inverness at a time when there was very little multiculturalism so I was intrigued by the growth of new communities. I began making photographs and delving deeper into the Polish culture that had emerged in this place near Loch Ness. I traveled to Poland because I was interested in the connection between Poland and Scotland. I made pictures, chatted with Polish friends and realized that my strong interest in the new demographics were directly linked to thinking about the Scotland of old, the traditions, the heritage, my heritage – a heritage which I had never really known.

Growing up I heard much about Scalpay: my Scottish family was from there, my father was born there, and he and his family left when he was five. To me the island was like a fairy tale, an unknown land, far away on a distant planet with stories of crofts, religion and fishing.

I decided to go and visit my relatives, to see for myself where I had come from. When I arrived, I was told that there had been no births in seven years, the fishing traditions were fading away, and the people of old with it. The last corner shop closed in 2007, the pre-school also shut down that year. The primary school had two or three pupils and there is no High School. Over the years the population had sunk to 250, a third of which were pensioners.

The young are leaving to seek work. To me this island symbolized a Scottish way of life that is disappearing like many other places in the world where traditional ways of living and working are becoming memories of the past.

My uncle, David Morrison, is the fisherman in the photographs with his boat mate Tappy – they are a symbol of the last generation of the old world. He has lived on Scalpay his whole life and fished for most of that. He misses the herring boom of the 60s and 70s. When many other villages around Harris were being depopulated, Scalpay remained strong due to its tradition of fishing.

David often speaks of the ‘herring fever’.  When he speaks of its decline you can see the loss in his eyes.  He looks back fondly on those days, the community, the way of life.  Today at 70 he still operates a small boat fishing for prawns. He has talked about giving it up, there are no more prawns, they too have left. Yet he still goes out.