The thorny topic of highly protected marine areas (HMPAs) has reached the campaign to find Scotland’s next first minister – with SNP candidate Kate Forbes saying she would scrap the plans as they stand.
The MSP is reported as saying that she would prefer to instead “commission a feasibility study into devolving marine protection and inshore fisheries powers to local authorities”.
Forbes, who is currently the Scottish Government’s finance secretary, said there is “no evidence” to demonstrate HPMAs actually achieve their aims.
The Scottish Government is currently consulting on proposals to introduce HPMAs to ensure “clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse seas”.
But the fishing industry has expressed deep concern given that “aquaculture activity is set to be banned, with hundreds of jobs and millions of pounds of income lost”.
Forbes said the “current plans will have a disproportionate socio-economic impact on our island and coastal communities, and could impact work being done in other parts of government to reverse population decline”.
“I cannot understand why anyone in government, particularly when we are deliberately trying to stem depopulation in rural areas, thought it would be a good idea to take such a blanket approach,” she said.
Meanwhile fellow candidate Humza Yousaf told Shetland News that the process is at a very early stage.
“I think we all accept there’s more that we need to continue to do to protect our biodiversity,” he said.
“That’s got to be a priority for all of us, not just government but for everybody who lives here in Scotland. We already have protected marine areas – it comes to over 35 per cent of our seas.
“Highly protected marine areas is at a really early stage. We’re at consultation stage – we’ve not got the criteria let alone the site selection.
“So what I would certainly do as first minister, is make sure that whichever minister is leading that, and the government as a whole, really take into account the views of our fishing, coastal and island communities.
“We’re not going impose highly protected marine areas on a community without engaging with them and consulting with them.”
However he added that highly protected marine areas can play an “important role” in tackling climate change.
Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Elspeth Macdonald has welcomed Forbes’ views, saying all politicians should “recognise the complete lack of any robust ecological case” behind highly protected areas.
“It is vital that policy making is evidence-based rather than just reflective of the views of those who may be passionate about the planet but often seem to have little understanding of reality or science,” she added.
Through the Bute House agreement, the power sharing deal between the Scottish Government and the Greens, Scottish ministers have committed to designate at least 10 per cent of Scotland’s seas as HPMAS by 2026.
Scottish Greens’ Highlands and Islands MSP Ariane Burgess recently spoke up in parliament in praise of “no-take zones”, where fishing is prohibited.
She referenced the no-take zone in Lamlash Bay in Arran, which was created in 2008.
“A hectare of protected no-take zone produces five times the quantity of fish of unprotected areas,” Burgess said after the parliament debate, “so HPMAs offer an opportunity to benefit both fishermen and fish, as well as providing much-needed protected habitat to enable nature to recover and thrive”.