Minister must stop and rethink on HPMAs, says fisheries leader

The Scottish Government must stop and rethink its deeply unpopular proposals for strict marine conservation zones where fishing will be outlawed, an industry leader has warned.

In remarks at the opening of the Scottish Skipper Expo at the P&J Live in Aberdeen, the sector’s biggest annual showcase, Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said ministers had failed to make the case for Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs).

She told Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Mairi Gougeon, who attended the event: “I’m sorry to say that our recent experience in engaging with the government on HPMAs has been far from meaningful. We all need to work to protect nature and we all need to act to help tackle climate change. But this is not the way to do it. I absolutely know I am not alone in calling for the government to stop and rethink these proposals, which are causing great concern and anxiety all around Scotland’s coast.

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“We have shown over many years that we are committed to nature conservation, but it has to be founded on evidence; properly and carefully developed with the genuine involvement of stakeholders and balanced alongside sustainable use.”

​SFF chief executive Elspeth Macdonald​SFF chief executive Elspeth Macdonald
​SFF chief executive Elspeth Macdonald

Ms Macdonald highlighted the industry’s constructive involvement in the creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) stating: “That work has been a number of years in the making – getting it right, doing it properly and taking people with you. Almost 40% of Scotland’s seas are designated as MPAs, and the government’s own programme of reviewing their effectiveness is still to be completed.

“Sadly the Scottish Government’s approach to HPMAs is taking us backwards. Generated from a political agreement with the Scottish Greens, SFF firmly believes that the government has failed to make its case for HPMAs, and strongly opposes the approach set out in the recent consultation.”

She also underlined the threat from the rapid development of huge offshore windfarms, which together with HPMAs are causing a spatial squeeze that meant the industry “feels under threat like never before”.