Scottish Government Commits to Working With Communities over HPMAs

Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) have been fiercely debated in the Scottish Parliament this week. A central part of the Bute House agreement ensuring Scottish Green Party participation in the SNP led Scottish Government , HPMAs, if implemented, will greatly impact the economies and populations of island and coastal communities. What’s being said? and What happens next?

Opposition parties have been quick to jump on HPMAs as a means to attack environment policies being pursued by the Green supported SNP Government. Two debates were held in the Scottish Parliament on the 2nd and 3rd of May with some SNP MSPs breaking ranks to declare their opposition to the imposition of HPMAs , as they currently stand.

In Tuesday’s debate, brought by the LibDem MSP for the Shetland Constituency, Beatrice Wishart, she said that HPMAs had “struck fear and anxiety into coastal and island communities.”

The Scottish Government published and extended the closing date for a consultation on HPMAs which Orkney Islands Council eventually realised the importance of and belatedly sent in their views attacking the policy. Managing Our Seas: Community v Government

Fishing communities on the West Coast of Scotland have been more proactive in their opposition possibly because this policy is more likely to impact them the most. Protest Song Sailing Strong in the Charts

The First Minister of Scotland, Humza Yousaf, has stated that no HPMAs will be imposed on island and coastal communities without their consent.

head and shoulders shot of Alasdair Allan

Alasdair Allan the SNP MSP who represents Na h- Eileanan an Iar, said of the fears that he has come across in his community:

 “I have never known my constituency to be apparently so unanimously opposed to any single policy as this one in all my time serving as their MSP. That opposition is not only from those who are involved in the fishing industry—literally everyone locally who has spoken or written to me on the issue has expressed total opposition to the proposals as they stand.

“If the measures are implemented, they would, I believe, disproportionately punish low-impact and more sustainable forms of fishing. As sites are not due to be selected for another two years, I am afraid that the issue will be hanging over each and every coastal community between now and when those decisions are taken.

“Fishers and others who rely on the sea to make their living fully recognise the need to tackle biodiversity loss, and that loss is certainly real, but nobody with whom I have spoken in the islands believes that a blunt approach is the best way to go. I question how any such approach would, in the end, be compatible with the Scottish Government’s commendable drive to tackle rural depopulation, as well as with the overall aims and commitments that are set out in “The National Islands Plan”.

Another SNP MSP, Fergus Ewing, who represents, Inverness and Nairn, has also been very vocal in his opposition to the policy, even tearing up the actual consultation document during the debate. He said he had not come across anger like it in 49 years. He wants the Minister to apologise to the fishing communities and go back, starting again , this time working with those communities.

The Scottish Greens are sticking to their promotion of HPMAs as the only way to protect our marine environment. Ariane Burgess who represents the Highlands and Islands believes that Scotland is ‘failing in its legal duty to maintain our seas to good environmental status. ‘

HPMAs might be political hot potatoes in Scotland but they are also coming to the seas in England and are being promoted by the UK Tory Government – the same policies now opposed by Tory MSPs in the Scottish Parliament.

The UK Government intends to designate the first three Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) in English waters before 6 July 2023. This decision was reached after the UK Government  consultation on five HPMA candidate sites.

The three sites are:

  • North East of Farnes Deep
  • a modified version of Allonby Bay
  • a modified version of Dolphin Head

Are the Tories who sit in the Scottish Parliament genuinely concerned for our fishing communities in Scotland ? And yet they don’t seem to show the same concern for the fishers of England ?

Tory MSPs brought a motion to the Scottish Parliament on 3rd of May opposing HPMAs in Scotland’s waters. The result of that debate was an amended motion with voting as follows: For 62 (SNP and Scottish Greens), Against 53 ( Labour, Tories, LibDem, including Fergus Ewing SNP), Abstentions 2 ( Alasdair Allan SNP, Na h-Eileanan an Iar, and Kate Forbes SNP, Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) .

The UK Government is way ahead of the Scottish Government on imposing HPMAs. Scotland is still at the start of the process. Mairi McAllan, the Cabinet Secretary in the Scottish Government in charge of this policy, has committed to meeting with coastal communities whilst considering the responses in the consultation.

The amended motion which Scottish’s MSPs have now voted for states:

“That the Parliament values the £560 million that fishing contributes to Scotland’s economy and the communities that rely on that industry; recognises fish and shellfish as Scotland’s climate-smart food; further recognises that the fishing industry has worked constructively with the Scottish Government for many years on the network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) covering 37% of Scotland’s seas; notes that Scotland is in the midst of a climate and nature crisis and that decision-makers must be prepared to take action commensurate with the scale of that challenge, including enhanced marine protection, through a fair and just transition; believes that Scotland’s seas must remain a source of economic prosperity for the nation, especially in remote, coastal and island communities; recognises the considerable strength of feeling on Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs); highlights that no sites have been selected, and welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to work with island and coastal communities, including the fishing sector, throughout the site selection process to ensure that their views are listened to and understood; notes the Scottish Government’s commitment that it will not impose HMPAs on communities that are vehemently opposed to them; understands that comparable levels of high protection are found internationally, and that Scotland’s proposals are similar to the EU’s commitment; notes the clear evidence base that shows the positive impact that enhanced marine protection makes, once in place, on recovering ecosystems and supporting a sustainable fishery sector; believes that the experience of the Lamlash Bay no-take zone has shown the benefits for both the marine environment and the people who rely on it; remains committed to supporting Scotland’s fishing sector, which plays such a key role in contributing to the country’s economic prosperity, especially in remote, rural and island communities; believes that the real threat to the Scottish fishing industry is the continuing adverse impacts of Brexit and the UK Government’s immigration policies; urges the Scottish Government to work with fishing communities and economies that have safeguarded the seas for generations to support and empower them to protect these fishing grounds for future generations, and to ensure that appropriate exclusions are put in place to benefit local communities and economies without being to the detriment of the marine environment; recalls the passing of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018, which allows for the ‘island proofing’ of legislation, meaning that the needs of island communities must be taken into consideration when creating policy or legislation, and believes that this approach must be followed in relation to Highly Protected Marine Areas.”

Readers who are following this story will be able to access the responses to the Consultation document here when they are published: Scottish Government consultations

Island and coastal communities will need to continue to hold Mairi McAllan and the Scottish Government to the commitment made by the First Minister that no HPMAs will be imposed on any community in Scotland without their consent.

Fiona Grahame

statue of a fisherman in Storonoway harbour

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