The Scottish Government was last night accused of tactics “verging on the cynical” after it launched a fresh consultation on controversial management measures for marine protected areas (MPAs) off the west coast.
Three locations – the Small Isles, Wester Ross and an area between Loch Sunart and the Sound of Jura – have been picked out for more public scrutiny.
Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said yesterday said the proposals for 17 other MPAs – part of a network of 30 unveiled last year – were to go ahead unchanged.
The latest attempt to gauge public opinion opened yesterday and will run until January 17.
Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong said: “The consultation timings are verging on the cynical.
“Launched on the Friday before Christmas week, the allowed period spans the holiday – thereby limiting considered response from those affected.
“The issue involves livelihoods, safety, continuity of sustainable food production and well-being in local communities.
“It is simply bad governance to push it into a politically driven time slot. This must be resolved justly, not quickly.”
Mr Armstrong added: “One MPA with very significant impact upon fishing communities – South Arran – has been excluded from further consultation despite a storm of public protest at a series of west coast meetings.
“To whom is the cabinet secretary listening, if not the communities affected?
“At first look, the adjustments made to the MPAs actually consulted upon remain wide of the preferred options developed in consultations and stakeholder workshops.
“These proposals, which have the hallmark of a fait accompli, will be closely inspected and a response made.”
Earlier this year, Mallaig skipper Willie John McLean said he was considering quitting the industry due to the MPAs.
Four generations of the family have fished out of Mallaig but Mr McLean threatened to call it a day after a large area of sea around the Small Isles was declared off-limits to fishermen.
Announcing the latest development yesterday, Mr Lochhead said the management measures for the MPAs would help to protect the “valuable” marine environment.
And he stressed the MPA network would cover just 4% of Scottish inshore waters and have only a tiny direct economic impact on fishing.
To help reduce this impact, he also announced an environmental monitoring strategy, resources for diversification being made an “early priority” for European funding and a “robust” study in a year’s time to assess the impact on coastal communities.
Mr Lochhead said: “We have received a range of different views on our proposals from communities, stakeholders and the fishing industry.
“I have made changes where I can to reduce any potential economic impact, while still protecting the integrity of our initial proposals and desire to protect and conserve the marine environment.
“Failure to protect coastal areas would result in permanent damage to habitats and the fish stocks they support.”