A senior SNP minister will today seek to assuage fears over plans to ban fishing in 10 per cent of Scottish waters, amid fresh calls to ditch the plans
Rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon will describe the fishing industry as “the lifeblood of coastal Scotland” when she officially opens the Scottish Skipper Expo 2023 in Aberdeen.
She will address the recent controversy over highly protected marine areas (HPMAs), which would place strict limits on some human activities, such as fishing and aquaculture. Ministers insist HPMAs will conserve marine eco-systems while providing economic and social benefits.
However, the plans have met with huge opposition in rural areas amid fears they will lead to substantial job losses in the fishing industry. Bòrd na Gàidhlig, the national public body with responsibility for Gaelic, has also raised serious concerns about the impact on Gaelic-speaking areas.
Ms Gougeon will acknowledge the strength of feeling in the fishing sector, telling the event: “There must always be space for fishing – the fishing industry must and will survive and thrive. I know that’s what you want, and it is firmly what the Scottish Government wants too.”
She is expected to argue that change is needed to help to sustain and restore Scottish fisheries for the future, and the communities and people that depend on them.
Ms Gougeon will add: “Our knowledge about the impact of human activity on the seabed, the need to guard against biodiversity loss and mitigate against climate change, drives us to seek improvements. This means taking measures to improve our marine environment, but it also requires us to balance the sustainable use of marine resources.”
She is expected to say that retaining consumer confidence in Scottish seafood as a brand relies on the accountability of Scotland’s sea fisheries and the ability to provide reassurance to buyers across the world that Scottish seafood is sustainably fished.
In 2022, Scotland’s seafood was the single largest overseas food export, worth £1 billion.
HPMAs are a key part of the Bute House Agreement – the power-sharing deal between the SNP and Greens that was signed in 2021.
Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) will take aim at the government at the same event.
Ms Macdonald will say: “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.
“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.”
The chief executive is also expected to say that, along with HPMAs, proposals for “huge offshore windfarms” mean the industry “feels under threat like never before”.