Anger from fishermen and seafood companies over heavily protected marine areas

Industry leaders have warned that plans to designate swaths of seas around Scotland as Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) will cost the country hundreds of jobs and millions of pounds.

The Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) and Seafood Shetland have teamed up with salmon and mussel farmers, along with companies in the seafood supply chain, to put out serious household warnings about the impact of HPMAs.

HPMAs are driven by policy and pledge, and are devoid of any environmental imperative or scientific backing.”

Daniel Lawson, Executive Officer, Shetland Hunters Association

They say no account has been taken of the cumulative effect alongside the development of offshore wind farms – a ‘spatial pressure’ that could close 50% of Scotland’s waters to fishing by 2050.

They have called claims that marine tourism can replace lost benefits from fishing in some of the world’s roughest seas, as well as from aquaculture, as “beyond parody”.

Fishing chiefs have recently criticized Holyrood for “scandalous” maritime policy that amounts to “greenwashing”.

The plans affect 10% of Scottish waters

The proposed HPMAs would close at least 10% of the seas around Scotland.

Scottish government ministers insist they will preserve marine ecosystems, while still providing economic and social benefits.

But fishermen and seafood producers fear the regions will destroy long-established traditional industries “without any evidence that they will achieve their conservation goals”.

Ullapool port improvement works
Ullapool port. Photo: Sandy McCook/DC Thompson

SFA Executive Officer Daniel Lawson said: “Fisherers have proven in the past that they are not opposed to sensible conservation measures, as knowing that having strong fish stocks and healthy marine ecosystems is in their best interest – and in the broader interest of the sustainability of our fishing community.

“However, the HPMAs’ proposals are driven by policy and pledge, and are devoid of any environmental imperative or scientific backing.”

Daniel Lawson, Executive Officer, Shetland Fishermen’s Association. Photo: Paul Riddell

“Marine biodiversity is very important”

Salmon Scotland CEO, Tavish Scott, said: “Marine biodiversity is incredibly important, and this can be achieved through responsible stewardship of our seas.

Simply putting up barriers to businesses and preventing responsible management of the sea threatens jobs in fragile coastal communities. It also runs counter to the government’s stated goal of growing a blue economy, playing our part in tackling global hunger and improving the nation’s health.

“If we reduce our competitiveness, companies will simply turn their attention to our Scandinavian competitors.”

Salmon Scotland Chief Executive Officer Tavish Scott. Photo: Salmon Scotland

Mr Scott, a former leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, added: “There needs to be a focus on evidence and balance, the case is simply not made for HPMAs.

“Sustainable growth of the Scottish salmon sector is critical to coastal communities, where the local salmon farm is often at the heart of society and a major employer, as well as to the wider economy and the Scottish Government’s vision for the country.”

Seafood industry ‘already highly regulated’

Ruth Henderson, CEO of Shetland Seafood Trade Authority, added: “The aquaculture industry is already highly regulated and has been operating successfully in MPAs for years.

“We are strongly against the introduction of more protected areas that could replace existing operations, with no tangible benefit to the environment.

Share your views on HPMAs in the comments section at the bottom of this article

“The seafood industry generates around £650m into the Scottish economy, provides essential rural employment, and provides healthy, highly nutritious protein up the food chain – factors that are often overlooked in the pursuit of empty titles for conservation.”

Fishermen and seafood producers are chafing at plans for MPAs. Photo: Paul Riddell

The sector is calling on individuals and organizations to read and respond to the government advisory on proposals that expires April 17.

A government spokeswoman said: “We want island communities to thrive and be able to take advantage of their vast natural assets.

“We recognize the need to support their sustainable futures – which is why we are working to improve marine protection, which is a necessity in climate and nature emergencies.

“Strongly Protected Marine Areas will allow for the recovery and restoration of key species and habitats, benefiting both nature and our economy by ensuring that there are sustainable levels of fish and other marine products that can be derived and utilized from our seas.”

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[Fishers and seafood firms’ fury over highly protected marine areas]