Fishermen protest over policy ‘mess’

A BID by Scottish west coast fishermen to halt environmental restrictions on fishing failed, after a heated debate inside and outside the Scottish parliament on Wednesday.
Eggs were thrown as fishermen protested outside Holyrood while the rural affairs, climate change and environment committee debated prohibitions on fishing in marine protected areas (MPAs).
Rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead has been called ‘the Devil incarnate’ and accused of being the ‘in the pay of American multinational conservationists’ online, according to one former government minister.
SNP MSP for Argyll and Bute Mike Russell, a former environment minister, backed Conservative objections to the restrictions and called his own party’s policy a ‘mess’.
Conservative MSP Jamie McGrigor, honorary president of the Clyde Fishermen’s Association, used his position on the committee to lodge wrecking amendments amid fears the restrictions could ‘wipe out scallop dredging’ and prompt legal action.
He was backed by fellow Tory MSP Alex Fergusson who warned of ‘severe economic disadvantage to the scalloping sector’.
Fishermen claim the proposals for the Firth of Clyde to the south of the Isle of Arran went ‘far beyond’ what was agreed in the initial consultation.
But McGrigor’s proposal to annul the fishing orders was defeated by seven votes to two. The orders will restrict bottom-towed fishing in 13 sites to be protected, including Loch Sween, South Arran, Upper Loch Fyne and St Kilda.
McGrigor said: ‘I’m told that for scallop dredging it could actually wipe it all out within two or three years.’
The Scottish government said the draft MPA was made available to those who responded to the consultation, such as the Clyde Fishermen’s Association, and emails were sent to fisheries monitoring organisations and conservation groups.
Lochhead said: ‘As far as I’m concerned we have done everything that we should have done.’
He acknowledged some fishing vessels could have a cut in revenue of up to 20 per cent but said the overall impact on the sector is only expected to be around 2.4 per cent.
‘I know this is controversial and I know there are very tough debates because we’re trying to balance conservation with economic impact but I think we have to have a sense of realism about the figures and phrases that we are using.
‘There is no danger of the scallop sector being wiped out by the South Arran MPA.’
Russell said: ‘How have we got ourselves into this mess? Eggs are being thrown outside and we’re having a debate which, according to the Cabinet secretary, will cause a very small degree of financial damage and Jamie McGrigor is talking about Armageddon.’
He acknowledged the consultation was ‘badly managed’, leading to misinformation being spread among the communities, and said McGrigor was quite entitled to argue his case.
‘Equally, I have known the cabinet secretary as man and boy and he is not ‘the Devil incarnate’, he is not’’in the pay of American multinational conservationists’, but that material is all over the internet and elsewhere.
‘So we have to step back from this and say there are methods of dealing with conflicts between traditional and ongoing use of natural resources and the demands of conservation.’