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Relief as fishing ban is scrapped – but industry leaders fears what might come next

Highly Protected Marine Areas are dead in the water but the seafood sector worries this is not the last effort to curb fishing in coastal communities.

The SNP has ditched controversial HPMAs.
The SNP has ditched controversial HPMAs.

Scotland’s seafood sector is breathing a sigh of relief after SNP plans to introduce a controversial fishing ban were fully scrapped months after a major U-turn.

But industry leaders fear the demise of highly protected marine areas (HPMAs) may not be the last effort to curb fishing in coastal communities.

The environmental policy aimed to protect sea life under threat but was met with a huge backlash from concerned rural businesses.

Minister for Net Zero and Just Transition Mairi McAllan. Image: PA

In June, Ms Allan said the proposals to restrict fishing to 10% of Scotland’s seas would no longer be implemented on schedule by 2026.

Now she has revealed the proposals will be ditched entirely following the angry responses from fishing industry leaders opposed to the scheme.

Bosses in the sector were pleased by the move, but warned the government must not sneak through similar measures by stealth.

Scottish Fishermen's Federation chief executive Elspeth Macdonald.
Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Elspeth Macdonald. Image: Holyrood PR

Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said: “We welcome today’s confirmation by the Scottish Government that it will not seek to ban fishing in at least 10% of Scottish waters.

“But ministers need to maintain that position and not bring in similar measures through other routes.”

Salmon Scotland chief executive Tavish Scott, a former Lib Dem leader in Holyrood, said today’s announcement was a “huge relief”.

Salmon Scotland chief excecutive Tavish Scott. Image: Salmon Scotland.

He said: “This analysis confirms that individuals were overwhelmingly opposed to the introduction of HPMAs, and the government was right to listen to these concerns and shelve the proposals.”

Hector Stewart, director of Kallin Shellfish, worries the government will now use priority marine features – a policy which protects sea life and habitats – to restrict fishing.

He claimed the SNP’s power-sharing deal with the Greens – named the Bute House Agreement – had alienated coastal communities who depend on the industry.

Mr Stewart said: “HPMAs were unpopular with the whole of the industry.

“It’s entirely the Bute House Agreement. The SNP was previously acceptable in government for most people. Now they’re not.”

The move is a blow for the Scottish Greens.

Ms McAllan’s confirmation the scheme has been ditched will come as a major blow to the Greens, who were strongly in favour.

It’s the latest flagship environmental policy to be ditched by the SNP after plans to introduce a bottle deposit scheme were halted earlier this year.

Ms McAllan said: “The proposal to implement Highly Protected Marine Areas across 10% of Scotland’s seas by 2026 will not be progressed.

“The government is firmly committed to protecting our marine environment and will continue to work closely with coastal communities and industries to protect Scotland’s seas.

“I am determined to protect our oceans in a way that is fair, and to find a way forward that ensures our seas remain a source of prosperity for the nation.”

The final nail in the coffin for the controversial fishing ban comes after a lengthy consultation carried out by the government.

It found even those who were supportive of the policy had concerns about the impact it would have on coastal communities.

Critics also feared plans to restrict 10% of the nation’s seas would have a disproportionate impact on inshore fishing.

David Duguid MP
David Duguid MP. Image: Scottish Conservatives

Banff and Buchan Tory MP David Duguid shared concerns that policies to target the fishing industry may be revived under another name.

He said: “The SNP-Green Government already claimed these plans were ‘scrapped’, but I worry that all they have done is kick the can down the road.

“While the SNP spin that these proposals have been consigned to history, I have yet to see any indication from Green MSPs such as Lorna Slater that they want to back down over this.”