Commitment to enhanced marine protection and placing local communities ‘at the heart of decision-making’

MPs from all political parties welcomed the announcement made in Holyrood last Thursday that plans to close 10% of all Scottish waters to any form of fishing activity had been abandoned.

In a statement to MSPs, cabinet secretary Màiri McAllan said that removing this target did not in any way undermine the Scottish government’s commitment to protect the marine environment. In her statement, she also made mention of priority marine features and their need for protection, possibly in a nod towards the detailed judgement expected soon in the judicial review undertaken by the NGO Open Seas (see page 3).

She told MSPs: “A particular concern raised with me, by those who support HPMAs and those who don’t, is that implementation of the proposal, in the proposed timeframe, could limit our aspirations for genuine collaboration with communities, which is integral to Scotland’s approach to a fair and just transition.

“Therefore, while for the reasons I have stated we remain firmly committed to the outcome of enhancing marine protection, I can confirm today that the proposal as consulted on will not be progressed. This means we will no longer seek to implement HPMAs across 10% of Scotland’s seas by 2026.”

This did not, she said in anyway alter the government’s commitment to protect Scottish seas. “We are in the midst of a nature and climate crisis, and we must be prepared to take action commensurate with the scale of that challenge.

“Failure to safeguard and improve the resilience of Scotland’s marine ecosystems to a changing climate risks the very basis on which our marine industries and coastal communities are built.

“Our seas must remain a source of prosperity for our country. Communities must be at the heart of this, and
we remain committed to any community wishing to push local conservation and follow shining examples such as Arran.”

The cabinet secretary repeatedly used the words ‘consultation’ and ‘community’ during her speech, telling MSPs that there had been more than 20 open meetings during the consultation process and that she had met many fishing organisations since the consultation had closed. She had, she said, along with cabinet secretary for rural affairs Mairi Gougeon ‘a very strong relationship with the fishing industry’.

“Over the summer we will develop a new pathway and timetable for our work. Communities will be at the
heart of this process, including inshore fishermen who recognise how important this is to their livelihoods,” she said.

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation reacted immediately to the announcement. CEO Elspeth Macdonald said: “Ministers will now need to reassure people that they are not simply intent on introducing the same policy by the back door. The seafood sector has set out a clear pathway on how we can work with government to strike the right balance between nature conservation and sustainable use, and the test for government now is to deliver upon that.”

Responding to the announcement, Scottish Conservative shadow rural affairs secretary Rachael Hamilton said: “Never before as spokesperson for my party have I come across a policy so universally opposed by an industry, and the communities their industry supports. Instead of listening, they are rehashing plans. They are not backing down, but doubling down on plans to ban fishing in 50% of inshore waters. Same policy, new date.

“The SNP might have rebranded their reckless plans on Highly Protected Marine Areas, but in reality this amounts to little more than kicking the can down the road.”

Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant welcomed the proposals but expressed scepticism about the announcement, saying: “I hope it is a genuine change of heart and signals a new, very differing working relationship with our fishing communities.”

Similar comments came from across the political spectrum, although Green MP Ariane Burgess, who has placed herself at the heart of the campaign in favour of the government proposals, said that she hopes that ‘the new timetable will give the time to develop genuine partnerships including all fishers, those in the tourism industry and young people that will help to meet targets that meet similar ones in the EU’.

Notwithstanding the statements made, it is not clear how the Scottish government will move ahead after the summer. A previous statement by Màiri McAllan that she was in contact with counterparts in the UK government to push for the Scottish government to be given legal powers for designations outside 200 miles appear to have been abandoned, leaving the commitment to ‘enhanced marine protection’ to apply within 12 miles only, and therefore to be of greatest impact to the inshore sector.

Over 4,400 responses to HPMA consultation

Analysis of responses to be completed this week

The Scottish government received 4,415 responses to its consultation on Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs), which closed on 17 April.

Almost £100,000 has been spent on the proposals, including £35,100 paid to a company to analyse the consultation responses. The contract was won by Crieff- based research and evaluation consultancy company Griesbach & Associates, which is tasked with delivering ‘robust and timely analysis’ of the responses. Its work is due to be completed by 5 July.

A freedom of information response from the Scottish government shows that 2,569 ‘substantive’ responses and 1,846 ‘campaign’ responses were received. Campaign responses are those that simply added their name to a standard text.

In addition to the fee for the analysis of the responses, a further £54,367 was spent by the Scottish government on a ‘sustainability appraisal’. Producing the consultation documents cost £6,656.

Speaking before the Scottish government climbdown on the proposals, Conservative MP for Banff and Buchan David Duguid said: “The high number of responses show there is a huge interest in this and a need to get these plans right.

“I believe most of the substantive responses will emphasise the fear and anger among fishing communities who believe these proposals will decimate the industry and their livelihoods.

“Across Banff and Buchan, I have heard from several businesses and fishermen who have responded to the consultation and outlined the devastating consequences these unworkable HPMA plans would have on our coastal communities.

“Throughout the consultation period, there has been a total disconnect between policy-makers in Edinburgh
and the fishing sector who have been treated like the industry doesn’t exist.

“If the SNP-Green government properly engaged with the fishing industry in the first place, then some of this £100,000 spending bill could have been saved.

“I hope Humza Yousaf will finally realise that he needs to sink these plans, even if it upsets his green coalition partners and environmental NGOs, who have precious little regard for the fishing industry and coastal communities.”

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

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