Ministers have warned that banning fishing in a tenth of Scottish waters under the network of new Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) would have a catastrophic impact on the industry.
The Scottish Federation of Fishermen (SFF) said the strict conservation areas were a very high price to pay when hunters lack environmental justification and are introduced for purely political reasons.
In addition, the government’s timeframe for running HPMAs by 2026 is entirely unrealistic for setting or establishing baselines, as stated in the SFF’s submission to the Scottish Government’s HPMA advisory.
Scotland’s current network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) already covers 37 per cent of its seas, and their impact needs to be fully understood before additional restrictions are introduced.
SFF chief executive Elspeth Macdonald said: “The Greens have hijacked the Scottish Government’s blue economy plans and will push the fishing industry into the red.
“Fish has a very low carbon footprint compared to other forms of protein and the Scottish Government’s healthy diet guidance is for people to eat fish at least twice a week.
“However, in addition to the current spatial pressure caused by the rush to build massive offshore wind farms with little regard for their impact on fisheries, the government wants to close another 10 percent of our waters to fishing vessels – with absolutely no evidence that doing so will lead to The Minister’s vague conservation goals will not lead to any attempt to understand the impact of the displacement of the fishing fleet.
“The underlying assumptions are that fishing is damaging the environment and stocks are deteriorating. Neither can be justified, and in fact private government indicators show that the sustainability of commercial fishing stocks is on a steady upward trend.”
SFF is a huge supporter of meaningful conservation and has been an active and supportive partner with the government in the development of the existing marine protected area network.
So rather than reject the concept of HPMAs outright, the SFF proposes that two carefully designed pilot areas be identified, one onshore and one offshore, that would allow government and stakeholders to work together, learn how to properly present them and plan the data collection and analysis needed to assess their impact.
Ms MacDonald added: “The very bad HPMA policy literally emerged out of the blue – out of the Bute House Agreement in fact – when Scotland already had an extensive MPA (Marine Protected Area) network that the SFF and fishing industry were closely involved in creating.
“The SFF urges the Scottish Government to radically rethink this and at least accept our alternative proposal for two pilot projects to assess the need, practicalities and costs/benefits in an appropriate scientific way.
“As it stands, the proposals will have a catastrophic impact on the fishing industry and our coastal communities that depend on it for jobs and income.”
In England, three HPMAs covering just 0.53 per cent of English waters will be tested as pilots.
What has been proposed in Scotland are permanent appointments for at least 10 per cent of our seamen, to a time scale wholly unrealistic and without adequate foundations for their purpose.
“This is not how to make good policy, and we call on the Scottish government to stop, think and rethink.”
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