The confirmation of Humza Yousaf as Scotland’s new first minister last week, after he defeated Kate Forbes in the SNP leadership contest by the narrow (and familiar) margin of 52% to 48%, will have far-reaching implications for the Scottish industry.

Kate Forbes had, the previous week, committed to abandon plans to designate 10% of Scottish waters as Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) by 2026 – one of a number of policy statements that caused the Scottish Green Party to question the future of the SNP-Green coalition should she win the leadership contest.

Humza Yousaf has yet to make any statement on his plans for HPMAs, but he has committed to maintaining the Bute House Agreement with the Scottish Greens, and was widely viewed as the ‘continuity’ candidate who was likely to carry forward most of the key policies of Nicola Sturgeon’s government.

Mr Yousaf offered Kate Forbes a role in his new government, but she declined, deciding instead
to return to the backbenches. Intriguingly, the job she was offered was cabinet secretary for rural affairs and islands.

This would have constituted a demotion from her previous job as finance secretary, so that alone would have been grounds for her to turn it down – but given her stated position on HPMAs, the growing tensions between her and the Scottish Greens, and the fact that she represents a coastal and rural constituency, acceptance of the role would have left her severely compromised.

With her former job no longer required as a consolation prize – or poisoned chalice – for the defeated leadership candidate, Mairi Gougeon was reappointed to the role she has occupied since 2021.

Guarded welcome from SFF

Scottish fishermen have urged the new first minister to work with the industry to help it flourish.

Welcoming the election of Humza Yousaf, Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) chief executive Elspeth Macdonald said that the efforts of skippers over many decades had put fishing in a strong position, as shown by the Scottish government’s own figures on sustainability – but that HPMA plans posed a major threat.

“I welcome Mr Yousaf as our new first minister and look forward to meaningful dialogue on how the new government can support our industry now and in the future. In particular, we would welcome a reappraisal of the Bute House Agreement as it relates to fishing.

“We have highlighted our concerns about HPMAs and offshore wind farms, which a specialist study has shown could close more than 50% of Scottish waters to mobile-gear vessels by 2050.

“And on Friday, the Crown Estate Scotland announced another 13 offshore wind projects under the Innovation and Targeted Oil and Gas (INTOG) round east of Aberdeenshire, which will effectively close a further 1,600km2 of the sea for between 25 and 50 years at least. These projects could significantly impact the Nephrops sector and further restrict the industry’s ability to operate profitably.”

She concluded: “Fishermen are not opposed to offshore wind in principle, but they need to be much more involved and listened to at the earliest planning stage to ensure that an industry with an already low carbon footprint – and one that is a vital source of healthy protein as well as being important for food security – is not sacrificed to the renewables juggernaut.”

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

Sign up to Fishing News’ FREE e-newsletter here

(Image credit: Humza Yousaf Facebook page)


Subscribe to Fishing News magazine today; never miss an issue and save 55%!