Shutting vast swathes of the sea “for no other reason than to meet political targets” is “nothing short of scandalous”, a Scottish fishing chief has said.
Mike Park was speaking as the clock ticks down on a Scottish Government consultation on its controversial proposals for Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs).
Another industry leader, Elspeth Macdonald, branded the plans as “greenwashing”.
And Banff and Buchan Tory MP David Duguid claimed they were “the biggest threat to the north-east fishing industry for decades”.
The level of sea areas now being lost to commercial fishing is increasing exponentially and will very soon severely impact the activity of the various fleets.
Mike Park, CEO, Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association
But the government hailed its proposals as “a step change in the protection of our marine environment”.
It aims to have at least 10% of Scottish waters designated as HPMAs by 2026.
This is one of the outcomes of the Bute House Agreement, a shared policy programme between the government and Scottish Greens.
Guidelines for identifying and selecting HPMAs were drafted by NatureScot and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, the public body that advises the UK Government and devolved administrations on international nature conservation.
We are running online information sessions to support anyone interested in responding to our consultation on Highly Protected Marine Areas in Scotland.
Register for at https://t.co/ELJFCJLOGK
— Marine Scotland (@marinescotland) February 7, 2023
The exact areas, which will have “strict limits on fishing” and other human activities, have yet to be decided.
A consultation on the proposals, aimed at allowing “marine ecosystems to recover and thrive”, runs until March 20.
A similar consultation for five HPMAs in English waters took place last year.
He said: “From the catchers’ perspective, they all agree measures should be introduced to protect priority marine features or indeed some special feature that requires protecting.
“They also agree that closing areas of the sea for no other reason than to meet political targets is nothing short of scandalous.
New measures ‘frustrating’
“As recently as 2018 Scottish MPA (Marine Protected Area) network proposals were recognised as being ‘on point’.
“The government’ stated aim was to be able to report more authoritatively on MPA status in 2024.
“It is most frustrating that it has now decided to implement additional measures.”
Fishers are already facing a “spatial squeeze” from offshore wind farms.
“The level of sea areas now being lost to commercial fishing is increasing exponentially and will very soon severely impact the activity of the various fleets,” Mr Park said.
He added: “The government does need to give serious thought regarding its support for fishing and fishing communities.”
Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said “HPMAs are an exercise in government ‘greenwashing’.
“There is no justifiable scientific rationale for their introduction or any evidence whatsoever they will achieve their very vague aims.”
Argyll & Bute Councillor Alastair Redman said fishers from around the country had contacted him about “the damage that will be caused” to commercial fishing, diving, aquaculture and angling.
Mr Redman added: “To say they are disgusted is an understatement.
“Ten per cent of Scottish waters works out as 28,728 square miles. The Scottish Goverment has once again overreached and should not be allowed to get away with this.
“Our hard-pressed fisherman are already highly regulated and restricted. Due to these destructive proposals, one of Scotland’s biggest industries now hangs in the balance.”
Mr Duguid expressed fears long-established businesses may become non-viable.
The MP continued: “The HPMA proposals are rightly causing a huge amount of concern.
“It seems the SNP-Green government wants to squeeze our fishing vessels out of large areas of the sea to the detriment of our valuable industry.
“There is absolutely no doubt these plans present the biggest threat to the north-east fishing industry for decades.”
A government spokesman said: “Scotland’s seas and waters have a key role to play in contributing to the nation’s future economic prosperity, especially in remote, rural and island communities.
“A healthy marine environment is essential to supporting this ambition.
“Our commitment to designate and protect at least 10% of Scotland’s seas as Highly Protected Marine Areas marks a step change in the protection of our marine environment.”