Breaking news: Scottish Government backs down over HPMAs

Controversial proposals to ban fisheries and aquaculture from a tenth of Scotland’s waters have been dropped in the face of widespread opposition.

Mairi McAllan, Scotland’s Net Zero Secretary, announced today that both the timetable – with implementation due to take place by 2026 – and scope, covering 10% of Scotland’s coastal waters, were no longer government policy.

The Scottish Government had published a consultation document last December, setting out plans for Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) in which virtually no form of commercial  activity – including all forms of fishing, aquaculture or offshore renewable energy installations – would be permitted.

The proposals drew strong criticism from coastal communities, the fishing industry and the fish farming sector, and even from some Scottish National Party (SNP) members of the Scottish Parliament, including former Fisheries Minister Fergus Ewing.

Earlier this month, representatives of the industries affected formed a united front, the Seafood Coalition, to campaign against the HPMA proposals. Organisations taking part included Salmon Scotland, the Scottish Fishermens’ Federation, Seafood Scotland, Scottish Association of Fish Producers’ Organisations, Community Fisheries Inshore Alliance and Scottish Seafood Association.

Timing her announcement for the last day of the Scottish Parliament’s current sitting, Mairi McAllan said: “We chose to consult as early and widely as possible on the principles of HPMAs, with no pre-determined sites. It has always been, and continues to be, this government’s plan to work cooperatively with communities to identify how and where to enhance marine protection in a way that minimises impact and maximises opportunity.

“Therefore, while we remain firmly committed to the outcome of enhanced marine protection, the proposal as consulted on will not be progressed.”

She promised to outline more detail on the government’s proposed next steps after the summer recess, when responses to the consultation paper are also expected to be published.

McAllan also confirmed that an ongoing programme of work to implement fisheries management measures in existing MPAs (Marine Protection Areas) where they are yet to be introduced, and to protect some of the most vulnerable Priority Marine Features outside of MPAs, will be taken forward as a priority.

She added that the Scottish Government will take more time to work with industry, communities and conservation organisations to enhance marine protection, while supporting any groups that wish to pursue community-led marine protection in their local area on a quicker timescale, such as those initiatives in Lamlash Bay on Arran and St Abbs & Eyemouth in Berwickshire.

Reacting to the announcement, the Scottish Fishermens’ Federation said: “We welcome that the Scottish Government appears to have listened to businesses and communities and recognised that its policy on Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) covering at least 10% of our seas is flawed and should be scrapped.

“Ministers will now need to reassure people that they are not simply intent on introducing the same policy by the back door. The seafood sector has set out a clear pathway on how we can work with the government to strike the right balance between nature conservation and sustainable use, and the test for government now is to deliver upon that.”

The explicit commitment to introduce HPMAs covering 10% of Scottish waters was part of the Bute House Agreement, which forms the basis of the SNP government’s coalition deal with the Scottish Greens, so this U-turn entails a potentially significant loss of political capital for the government.

The UK government has already introduced three HPMAs for the waters off England and Wales, but so far the initiative south of the border has been at too small a scale to attract significant opposition.

 

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