Scottish fishing skippers express fear over possible “back door” push for protected marine areas policy

Photo: Scottish Fishermen's Federation

Fishing boat skippers throughout Scotland are urging policymakers not to push through highly protected marine areas (HPMAs) “by the back door” after the publication of the consultation response, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) said in a news release earlier this week.

The SFF said that last week, the Scottish Government confirmed it will not be taking forward the controversial HPMAs policy in its current form, which would have led to a loss of around 10 per cent of Scotland’s fishing grounds.

However, many fishermen throughout the country remain concerned about the vague wording in the government’s response, and fear supporters of HPMAs will try their best to usher in the policy through another avenue.

Fisherman Barry Brunton from Dunbar has welcomed the scrapping of HPMAs, but is adamant more collaboration between fishermen and the government is needed to find the best solution for all concerned.

Brunton said he was “absolutely terrified” about HPMAs as putting up such an area in the little patch of ground where he works would mean he would lose “everything that [he] worked for.”

He added that the best people to ask how measures will work are the fishermen due to their knowledge of the grounds and the beaten stock. He believes that the next step should entail the government’s scientists and local fishers working together to find a more viable solution.

Skipper Mark Robertson of Fraserburgh meanwhile expressed his concerns about the potential effects HPMAs, or a similar blanket policy, may have on the sector, describing the proposal to keep people people out of areas they have traditionally fished in for years as an “absolute shambles.”

Mark Anderson from Shetland believes more scientific evidence is required before closed areas are implemented in Scotland’s seas.

Anderson added that the policy is “based on an ideal” and not on science, as reducing the Scottish fishing fleet by half over a span of 20 years would not achieve anything if the fish density in the country’s waters had not increased.

A recent poll conducted by the SFF found the industry was extremely well supported in the country, with nine in 10 Scots supporting the protection of fishing fleets amid increasingly crowded seas – and that same number calling for the Scottish government to do more to support the sector.

Elspeth Macdonald, CEO of the SFF, helped to form a coalition between several Scottish seafood organisations to voice their opinion against HPMAs earlier this year.

Macdonald said the decision not to progress the proposed HPMAs recognises the importance of a balanced approach to marine conservation, taking into account the livelihoods of fishers and the sustainability of the country’s fisheries.

The HPMA proposals sparked major protests from fishing communities across Scotland. Critics said the policy threatened the viability of many businesses and was being pushed through without adequate consultation.

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