Plans aimed at protecting and rejuvenating key areas of Scotland’s seas have come under fire from fishermen, who claim ministers are putting “green politicking” over the needs of coastal communities.
But conservationists have hit back, accusing the fishing industry of scaremongering and “attempted environmental vandalism”.
Tory MSP for Highlands and Islands Jamie McGrigor, who is honorary president of Clyde Fishermen’s Association, is spearheading a move to have fisheries management measures for 14 marine protected areas (MPAs) annulled.
If successful, two fishing orders designed to restore the health of important inshore seas, including areas of South Arran, Upper Loch Fyne and the world heritage site of St Kilda, will be scrapped.
The Scottish rural affairs, climate change and environment committee is due to meet today to decide whether to recommend the MPA proposals to parliament. A demonstration has been planned to protest against the annulment.
The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) say the Scottish Government’s plan to ban trawling and dredging in near-shore areas of the South Arran MPA is “totally irrational”.
Chief executive Bertie Armstrong insists SFF members “fully support the concept of MPAs”, but says the measures are “overly restrictive” and “a purely political decision”.
He added: “It is entirely possible to allow limited and carefully controlled fishing within parts of MPAs where there are no features of conservation importance, and to impose a blanket ban over a whole area is totally irrational and unnecessary.”
Activists say fishermen are “trying to scare Clyde communities” with warnings over the impact of MPAs.
“They would like folk to think MPAs will end life as we know it,” said Andrew Binnie, executive director of Community of Arran Seabed Trust.
“In fact the South Arran MPA equates to about 5 per cent of prawn trawl grounds in the Clyde – hardly cataclysmic. The government’s worst-case estimates do not predict major negative economic impacts.”
A Marine Conservation Society review of the economic impacts of MPAs found industry assessments of costs were significantly overestimated and long-term benefits not adequately accounted for.
Calum Duncan, the charity’s head of conservation in Scotland, said: “Well managed marine protected areas are essential to boost the ecological health of our seas, supporting knock-on benefits for coastal communities.
“By giving important areas of our inshore seas a rest from damaging activities we are responsibly looking after this precious public resource for this and future generations.”