AMBITIOUS conservation measures designed to safeguard Scotland’s seas could be jeopardised by a lack of resources, according to marine experts.
The designation of 30 new marine protected areas (MPAs) last month means a fifth of Scottish waters are now guarded against harmful activities such as dredging and trawling, and this looks set to expand if proposals for a further 18 sites get the go-ahead.
The move has been widely welcomed, with backing from environmentalists and the fishing industry.
Fears have been raised that the recent doubling of marine havens will overstretch the nation’s ability to protect them. Scotland, which has 60 per cent of UK waters, has three surveillance vessels and two aircraft to patrol an area six times the size of its landmass.
This stands in stark contrast to the situation south of the Border, where there are ten Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) with 32 dedicated boats at their disposal to cover seas up to six nautical miles from the coastline. The UK government’s Marine Management Organisation polices offshore waters. The Environment Agency takes care of migratory fish and has its own vessels.
Calum Duncan, Scotland programme manager for the Marine Conservation Society, has warned the conservation measures face failure if not adequately enforced.
“A huge amount of work has gone into identifying the right areas for MPAs in Scotland,” he said. “But if we want to see the benefits they were designed for there is now a need for a step-change in the resourcing of fisheries and environmental protection in Scottish waters.”
Alex Kinninmonth, living seas policy officer for the Scottish Wildlife Trust, expressed doubt over the government agency Marine Scotland’s ability to cope. He said: “There is a big difference between the resources put into fisheries and conservation management in England and in Scotland.
“They have officers who understand fisheries and have a foot in conservation as well, and I think this is a big gap in Scotland.”
His concerns were echoed by Howard Wood, chair of the Community of Arran Seabed Trust. He said: “Despite numerous logged fishing incursion incidents in the zone over the last six years, Marine Scotland Compliance has not yet attempted even one prosecution.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Enforcement is not the only route to achieving compliance – a successful and well managed MPA network requires the cooperation and understanding of marine users. We are continuing to work with fishermen and other marine users.”
She added that Marine Scotland’s resources were “effective arrangements” for policing Scotland’s seas.