20th March '23

HPMAs Will Have Catastrophic Impact on Fishing Industry

Banning fishing in a tenth of Scottish waters under a network of new Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) will have a catastrophic impact on the industry, ministers are being warned.

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) said the strict conservation zones were far too big a price for fishermen to pay when they lacked ecological justification and were being introduced for purely political reasons.

In addition, the government’s timeframe of having HPMAs operating by 2026 is wholly unrealistic for defining or establishing baselines, the SFF’s submission to the Scottish Government HPMA consultation states.

Scotland’s existing network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) already covers 37% of its seas, and its impact needs to be fully understood before additional restrictions are imposed.

SFF chief executive Elspeth Macdonald said: “The Scottish Government’s blue economy plans have been hijacked by the Greens and will push the fishing industry into the red.

“Fishing has a very low carbon footprint relative to other forms of protein, and the Scottish Government’s own healthy diet guidance is for people to eat fish at least twice a week.

“And yet on top of the existing spatial squeeze caused by the dash to build huge offshore windfarms with little consideration for their impact on fisheries, the Government wants to close a further 10% of our waters to fishing vessels – with no evidence whatsoever that doing so will achieve ministers’ vague conservation aims, nor any attempt to understand the effect of displacing the fishing fleet.

“The underlying assumptions are that fishing is damaging to the environment and stocks are degraded. Neither is justifiable, and in fact the Government’s own indicators show that sustainability of commercially fished stocks is on a continuing upwards trend.”

The SFF is highly supportive of meaningful conservation and has been an active and supportive partner with government in developing the existing MPA network.

So instead of entirely dismissing the concept of HPMAs, the SFF is proposing that two carefully designed pilot areas are designated, one inshore and one offshore, that would allow government and stakeholders to work together, learn how to introduce them properly and plan the data collection and analysis needed to assess their impact.

Ms Macdonald added: “This extremely poor HPMA policy literally emerged from the blue – from the Bute House Agreement in fact – when Scotland already has an extensive MPA (Marine Protected Area) network that the SFF and the fishing industry has been closely involved in creating.

“SFF is urging the Scottish Government to have a radical rethink on this and at very least accept our alternative proposal for two pilot projects to assess the need, practicalities and costs/benefits in a proper scientific manner.

“As they stand, the proposals will have a catastrophic impact on the fishing industry and our coastal communities that depend on it for jobs and income.”

In England, three HPMAs covering just 0.53% of English waters are to be trialled as pilots.

“What is proposed in Scotland are permanent designations of at least 10% of our seas, to a completely unrealistic timescale and with no proper foundations for their purpose. This is not how to make good policy, and we call on Scottish Government to pause, reflect and re-think.”

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