Scrap marine park plan, say groupings –

Scrap marine park plan, say groupings Published:  10 January, 2007

John Hermse

THREE Scottish West Coast fishermen’s associations have sent a joint reply to the Scottish Executive, making clear their total opposition to proposals for a coastal and marine national park (CMNP) sited between Argyll and Skye.

The Clyde Fishermen’s Association has written on behalf of all three and makes clear that they, as well as the Mallaig and North-west (MNWFA) and Western Isles (WIFA) Fishermen’s Associations are “resolutely opposed to the creation” of a CMNP. This comes on top of strong opposition from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Scottish Crofting Foundation, which saw it as a threat to economic and social development and a threat to the livelihoods of many crofters who are also fishermen. The associations highlight the number of members they represent which means that they are one of the largest commercial interests involved in the proposed park area. John Hermse, secretary of the MNWFA, said: “Given the wide spread of where our members have their homes throughout the west coast, our response reflects as wide a community view as the Executive is likely to get.”

The submission says that claims that the park can deliver certain social benefits are unquantifiable and unlikely to be delivered, because it simply highlights the failure of the Executive to deliver these benefits itself. Proposals by the Executive to strip functions from existing agencies to streamline the agencies’ work, and hand these to a Park Authority are rejected as a failure to address the plethora of Executive agencies on a national scale.

John Hermse said the proposals had an even more fundamental flaw. “The Act enabling national parks to be established is terrestrially focused, and so are the CMNP proposals. It has been written from a terrestrial not a marine viewpoint and fails to suggest what a plan for a marine park might look like. Much is made of the success of national parks in other areas, but these are set in areas of wilderness with little existing economic activity. That is not the case on the west coast. The area is an important economic resource, and a marine park authority would stop many of the economic activities that exist at present. A CMNP should have a rich marine ecosystem with as little human economic dependency on it as possible,” he said.

The Associations also foresee conflict between the park authority and the Executive and local authorities. Marine spatial planning is being introduced throughout the EU, but the associations claim the Executive could not confirm if this would take precedence over a CMNP. John Hermse said: “If it takes precedence, there is no need for the park. If the park takes precedence there will be conflict between the two. It is also likely to bring conflict with the work of agencies such as Highlands and Islands Enterprise, because the park’s writ will run at least two kilometres inshore, which could hold back onshore development and even housing within the Park boundary.”

He added: “We are also concerned that the park authority would have powers which would usurp the responsibilities of UK and Scottish ministers. Ministers are answerable to Parliament and the people. A park authority would be answerable to no one. The responsibility for conservation policy and direction must remain with ministers. We were told that the park would work well with the inshore fisheries groups that are currently being set up, but it is obvious that while an IFG can regulate fishing, the park authority can ban fishing completely, but it won’t have any responsibility to deal with the social and economic consequences of such an action.”

The associations want the Executive to abandon the park proposals, because the objectives can be achieved at far less social, economic and financial cost. Mr Hermse said: “There are many existing initiatives dealing with the coastal environment that will be starved of funds if the park goes ahead. Millions will instead be spent on a project that will be divisive and that is nothing short of criminal. Other initiatives properly funded and applied to the whole of Scotland will achieve the same objectives for far less cost.”