The Scottish Government has reiterated its decision to scrap its proposal to designate 10% of Scottish seas as Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) by 2026.
This follows publication of results from a public consultation held between December 2022 and April 2023, which revealed "highly polarised" views on the proposal, the Government said.
Scottish legislators had already announced in June 2023 that the proposal would not go ahead, following strong opposition from industry groups and coastal communities, including a protest song by a popular folk group which compared the proposals to the Highland Clearances.
The Scottish Government consultation received 4,502 individual responses, with 55% for and 42% against the proposed HPMAs. However, just over 2,000 of these were "campaign responses in which respondents expressed the views of a co-ordinated campaign" organised by a lobby organisation, the Scottish Government said in its summary.
When the campaign responses were removed from the data, the results showed 76% opposed the HPMA proposal, with 20% in favour.
The results showed a majority agreed with the need to better protect the marine environment, but responses indicated concerns about inadequate prior consultation with the local communities likely to be most affected by the HPMA proposals.
Among the key findings were concerns about the government taking "a blanket approach to marine protection". Instead, respondents "suggested building on the local knowledge and values of people who live by and work on the sea, and respect local sustainable fishing practices."
Many respondents also doubted the feasibility of reaching the 10% target by 2026, and "worried that the ban on fishing activity could be disproportionately concentrated in the inshore area," the report noted.
"This analysis confirms that individuals were overwhelmingly opposed to the introduction of HPMAs, and the government was right to listen to these concerns and shelve the proposals," said Tavish Scott, CEO of salmon farming trade organisation Salmon Scotland.
"This confirmation is a huge relief for salmon farmers and all those who rely on our sector who were concerned about the impact on their livelihoods."
The Scottish Fishermen's Federation expresssed similar sentiments, with CEO Elspeth Macdonald saying she welcomed the news. However, she warned, "ministers need to maintain that position and not bring in similar measures through other routes."
"What’s important is that we have an approach to conservation that balances marine protection with sustainable use, as the government’s existing policies should be aiming to achieve."
Formally announcing the proposals "will not be progressed", Scottish Government minister Mairi McAllan reiterated the importance of marine protection around the Scottish coast.
"The government is firmly committed to protecting our marine environment and will continue to work closely with coastal communities and industries to protect Scotland's seas for the benefit of all," McAllan said.
"As a priority, this includes completing management measures for our existing Marine Protected Area network and protecting our Priority Marine Features," McAllan said.
"I am determined to protect our oceans in a way that is fair and to find a way forward that ensures our seas remain a source of prosperity for the nation, especially in our coastal and island communities," she added.