PLANS for controversial marine conservation areas were attacked as “draconian” restrictions on fishing that will lead to a “severe” loss of jobs by industry leaders.
The Scottish Government is pursuing plans to establish marine protected areas (MPAs) to conserve fragile habitats, with areas of seabeds among the spots set to be safeguarded from scallop dredging and prawn trawlers. However, MSPs were warned yesterday that the plans will make it impossible to fish in some of Scotland’s most fertile grounds, putting jobs at risk and ruining parts of the sector.
The restrictions could also put safety at risk by depriving fishermen of areas to shelter during harsh weather at sea, Holyrood’s rural affairs, climate change and environment committee was told.
Duncan MacInnes, secretary of the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association, claimed that key parts of the industry had been ignored in the Scottish Government’s consultation on MPAs, which he described as the “worst situation” in his 40 years in the sector.
Mr MacInnes, warning of the economic impact of MPAs, said: “In our view its draconian and will result in a severe loss of jobs at land and at sea. The economic impact of it has been grossly underestimated.”
Willie John McLean, a member of the Mallaig and Northwest Fisherman’s Association, warned that the creation of restricted areas at sea could force those that remain in business into more dangerous waters.
He said: “If a lot of these are closed off we won’t be able to fish. It would be a disaster if we lost them.
“Something has to be done because jobs could go.
“If it goes ahead it will be really dangerous. A lot of these areas are classed as shelters and they are being eroded.”
Kenny MacNab, chairman of the Clyde Fishermen’s Association, echoing the concerns, said: “Almost all of these (areas) provide shelter for boats when they are fishing.
SNP MSP Dave Thompson said potential job losses could devastate small fishing communities dependent on the industry as he called on ministers to do more protect the sector.
He said: “We’re talking about 30 or 40 jobs for a community. That’s a massive jobs loss and would be the equivalent of 5,000 jobs going in Edinburgh. It’s very important that we get this right.”
Meanwhile, Steve Bastiman, of the Scottish sea anglers conservation network, said the government had failed to listen to objections to MPAs and had given an impression of presiding over “backroom deals”
A final decision on the MPAs has yet to be made, although the Scottish Government previously said a “failure to protect these areas in the longer term would result in permanent damage to habitats and the fish stock they support”.