Leading Journal of the Irish & UK Fishing Industries

Shetland’s vital seafood industries will be crippled by the introduction of strict new conservation zones where all fishing and aquaculture activity is set to be banned, with hundreds of jobs and millions of pounds of income lost.


That is the stark warning made to the Scottish Government today by representatives of Shetland’s seafood sector and its network of supporting companies as they united in opposition to plans to introduce Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) within three years.


Ministers claim that HPMAs, which will close at least 10% of Scotland’s seas, will conserve marine ecosystems while continuing to provide economic and social benefits.


But according to Shetland Fishermen’s Association, Seafood Shetland, salmon and mussel farmers and companies in the seafood supply chain, these zones will effectively destroy long-established traditional industries without any evidence that they will achieve their conservation aims.


The sector is calling on individuals and organisations in Shetland to read and respond to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the proposals, which closes on 17th April. The documents can be found here: https://consult.gov.scot/marine-scotland/scottish-highly-protected-marine-areas/


It is also seeking an urgent island-wide assessment of the proposals given the disproportionate impact they will have on a fragile community where seafood accounts for one-third of economic output.


The sector’s main objections are that:


  • The aims and purposes of HPMAs are poorly defined, deeply questionable and based on assumptions and ideology rather than scientific evidence or common sense, with the Scottish Government failing to produce data on how such zones function in other parts of the world.


  • The proposals state that Scotland’s waters are “degraded” and assume that fishing is responsible for “damage” when many key fish stocks have increased in abundance in recent years.


  • No account has been taken of the cumulative impact alongside offshore windfarm development – a spatial squeeze that could close 50% of Scotland’s waters to fishing by 2050.


  • The suggestion that marine tourism could replace the lost benefits of fishing and aquaculture – in some of the most inhospitable seas in the world – is beyond parody.


Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) executive officer Daniel Lawson said: Shetland’s fishermen have proven in the past that they are not opposed to sensible conservation measures, recognising that strong fish stocks and healthy marine ecosystems are in their own interest – and in the wider interest of sustaining our fishing community. 


However, proposals for HPMAs are being driven by politics and pledges, and are devoid of any environmental imperative or scientific backing.”


Ruth Henderson, chief executive of Seafood Shetland, said: “The aquaculture industry is already highly regulated and has successfully operated in marine protected areas for years, so we adamantly oppose the introduction of a further protected area that could displace existing operations with no tangible benefit to the environment. 


We would remind the Scottish Government that the seafood industry generates around £650 million into the Scottish economy, provides essential employment in rural areas, and delivers a healthy and highly nutritious protein into the food chain. Factors that are often disregarded in the pursuit of vacuous conservation headlines.”


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


Simply putting up barriers to companies and preventing responsible management of the sea threatens jobs in fragile coastal communities. It also goes against the government’s stated aim to grow the blue economy and play our role in tackling global hunger and improve the nation’s health.


If we reduce our competitiveness, businesses will simply turn their attention to our Scandinavian competitors.


There should be a focus on evidence and balance, and the case has simply not been made for HPMAs.


Sustainable growth of the Scottish salmon sector is crucial for coastal communities, where the local salmon farm is often at the heart of the community and the main employer, as well as for the wider economy and the Scottish Government’s vision for the country.”


The sector’s demands are supported by LHD, Ocean Kinetics, Malakoff, Northwards, Pelagia Shetland, Shetland Seafood Auctions, HNP Engineers, Inverlussa, BK Marine, Blydoit Fish and Island Fish Shetland.


The Scottish Government proposal is to close at least 10% of Scotland’s seas, to the fishing and aquaculture industries. By comparison, the UK Government selected a total of five sites for HPMAs in English waters – all to be trialled as pilot projects and covering just 0.53% of English waters. 


One of those proposed HPMAs, around Lindisfarne/Holy Island in Northumbria, has now had to be scrapped by the UK Government in response to public outcry at the lack of consideration given to local fishing crews and their economic and social value to the island community.