Excluding fishing from around a tenth of Scottish waters under a network of new Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) will have a catastrophic impact on the industry, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation warns.
Ministers are warned that these exceptionally strict conservation zones are far too big a price for fishermen to pay, and these measures have no ecological justification as they are being introduced for purely political reasons. SFF states that the government’s timeframe of having HPMAs in operation by 2026 is wholly unrealistic for defining or establishing baselines.
‘The Scottish Government’s blue economy plans have been hijacked by the Greens and will push the fishing industry into the red. Fishing has a very low carbon footprint relative to other forms of protein, and the Scottish Government’s own healthy diet guidance is for people to eat fish at least twice a week,’ said SFF chief executive Elspeth Macdonald, commenting that Scotland’s existing network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) already covers 37% of its waters, and its impact needs to be fully understood before additional restrictions are imposed.
‘On top of the existing spatial squeeze caused by the dash to build huge offshore windfarms with little consideration for their impact on fisheries, the Government wants to close a further 10% of our waters to fishing vessels – with no evidence whatsoever that doing so will achieve ministers’ vague conservation aims, nor any attempt to understand the effect of displacing the fishing fleet,’ she said.
‘The underlying assumptions are that fishing is damaging to the environment and stocks are degraded. Neither is justifiable, and in fact the Government’s own indicators show that sustainability of commercially fished stocks is on a continuing upwards trend.’
The SFF states that its position is in support of meaningful conservation and it has been an active and supportive partner with government in developing the existing MPA network.
It does not dismiss entirely the concept of HPMAs, and SFF is proposing that two carefully designed pilot areas be designated, one inshore and one offshore, that would allow government and stakeholders to work together, learn how to introduce them properly and plan the data collection and analysis needed to assess their impact.
‘This extremely poor HPMA policy literally emerged from the blue – from the Bute House Agreement in fact – when Scotland already has an extensive MPA (Marine Protected Area) network that the SFF and the fishing industry has been closely involved in creating. SFF is urging the Scottish Government to have a radical rethink on this and at very least accept our alternative proposal for two pilot projects to assess the need, practicalities and costs/benefits in a proper scientific manner,’ Elspeth Macdonald said.
‘As they stand, the proposals will have a catastrophic impact on the fishing industry and our coastal communities that depend on it for jobs and income.’
In English waters, three HPMAs covering just 0.53% of English waters are to be trialled as pilots.
‘What is proposed in Scotland are permanent designations of at least 10% of our seas, to a completely unrealistic timescale and with no proper foundations for their purpose,’ she said.
‘This is not how to make good policy, and we call on Scottish Government to pause, reflect and re-think.’