Fishermen have warned that plans to establish marine protected areas off Scotland’s west coast will create “economic deserts” and kill off fragile communities reliant on the industry.
The Western Isles Fishermen’s Association (Wifa) has joined forces with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Islands Council) to oppose the proposals from the Scottish Government agency Marine Scotland.
Consultation on the plans ends next month, but fishing and council leaders claim such measures will prevent fishing operations in some of the most fertile grounds off the west coast, putting jobs at risk.
Duncan MacInnes, of Wifa, said: “This will result in a severe economic impact if they proceed with the current proposals.
“The figures produced by Marine Scotland greatly underestimate existing fishing activity in these areas and proposed management measures will have a huge impact on the fishing and processing sectors with potential jobs losses the result.
“We believe the designations will decimate coastal communities already on the margins of long-term sustainability.
“From a fishing community perspective there is a total lack of confidence in the data being used by Marine Scotland to demonstrate the minimal impact of the designation management measures and a belief that this is at the heart of a fundamentally flawed and undermined process”.
The fisherman’s association and local authority have formed a joint working group with the aim of opposing the imposition of the designations and highlight the impact they will have on the communities of the Outer Hebrides and west coast of Scotland.
The group has expressed its belief that it had no confidence in any of the processes around the development of marine designations around the Outer Hebrides and they were of little doubt that the imposition of these designations would be hugely damaging to the fishing industry.
Councillor Alasdair MacLeod, chairman of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s sustainable development committee, said: “It is obvious to me that the designation proposals have been developed on partial and incorrect information.
“Marine Scotland should take heed of the experienced voice of the fishing industry in the Western Isles and suspend this flawed designation process.
“Given the serious flaws within the processes the present deadline of 9 August for responses should be significantly extended.”
Mr MacLeod added: “If these designations are imposed on the Outer Hebrides, it will have devastating economic impacts on our fishing industry – both the catching sector and on-shore processing.
“It is important that the opposition of the Comhairle, the industry and the wider community to these designations is listened to.
“The Comhairle/industry working group will therefore be making a strong and robust case to the Scottish Government in relation to these unwanted designations.”
It now plans to meet local politicians in the Western Isles and Highlands to enlist their support in their case.
The Scottish Government did not respond to a request for a comment last night.