Representatives from across the seafood industry in Scotland have joined forces in a concerted campaign against the Scottish government's plans to ban fishing, aquaculture, and harvesting in at least 10% of the country's waters. In it, the 'Seafood Coalition' urges ministers to scrap the Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs).
The campaign comes amid a growing response against the proposal, which states that at least 10% of Scotland's seas must become HPMAs by 2026, including restrictions on human activities such as aquaculture and fishing. Before joining this initiative, Scotland's fishing, seafood and aquaculture industries, as well as some local authorities, had already separately criticized the Scottish Government's plans for new HPMAs around Scotland's coasts.
In the petition presented yesterday, the seafood sector calls on ministers to "follow the science" and develop an evidence-based approach that considers all pressures on the marine environment in a balanced way. They also call for a review of the performance of existing marine protected areas (MPAs) which, they recall, already cover 37% of Scottish waters.
At yesterday's event, the 'Seafood Coalition' highlighted the crucial role of coastal communities in signing the petition to ensure their voices are heard. In addition, they also suggested that the Scottish government can learn from the pilot programs of Highly Protected Marine Protected Areas in other UK waters.
Representatives of the organizations that make up the Scottish 'Seafood Coalition' spoke outside the Scottish Parliament yesterday.
"Banning fishing in at least 10% of our waters is the wrong approach," said Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, which represents around 400 vessels. "No evidence has been produced by ministers to show why HPMAs are necessary or that they will achieve their very vague aims," she continued. "They are being introduced to appease the Greens in the coalition government and will cost jobs, devastate Scottish coastal and island communities and will push the seafood sector into the red."
For his part, Tavish Scott, chief executive of Salmon Scotland, said that the HPMAs put at risk the global success story of Scottish salmon and Scottish seafood. "There is scant scientific justification for the proposed HPMAs, and an outright ban on responsible sea activities is not the solution," he stated. "The sustainable growth of our salmon farms and other sectors is vital for the well-being of our coastal communities, the overall economy, and the vision of the Scottish Government," he added. "That's why we have joined forces with other seafood organisations to launch this petition, urging ministers to adopt an evidence-based approach that protects both the environment and the livelihoods of hardworking Scots."
The representative of the Community Inshore Fisheries Alliance, Elaine Whyte, added that "HPMAs are only the latest example of top down policies which threaten coastal communities and ignore the positive roles fishing communities play in providing low carbon, sustainable food to meet a growing demand for protein." Whyte also said that "HPMAs disregard local knowledge and undermine established sustainable fisheries management practices and the security of low carbon footprint food sources". Moreover, she urged the government "to be mindful of our fishing communities' resilience to survive and their breaking points, and work alongside them before communities are damaged beyond repair."
Finally, Jimmy Buchan, chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association, was somewhat more conciliatory. "While the government's aim to protect Scotland's marine environment is commendable and over a third of Scotland's seas are already designated for protection, concerns have been raised about the impact of HPMAs on rural communities and the businesses that support them," he said. "It is crucial that the Scottish Government listens to all stakeholders and takes into account their concerns and perspectives," Buchan continued. "Furthermore, the government must not be beholden to any particular political agenda, including that of the Greens, and must ensure that the interests of all stakeholders are protected."
The 'Seafood Coalition' also wanted to emphasize that no one cares more about the marine environment than those who depend on it for their livelihoods. "Coastal communities the length and breadth of Scotland are united in their opposition to this ill-founded policy. We call on the Scottish Government to scrap their plans, scrap the ban and acknowledge that it's time to think again," said Elspeth Macdonald from the Scottish Fishermen's Federation.
The representatives of the organizations that make up the coalition invited everyone to sign the petition. "We encourage everyone to sign the petition and show their support for sustainable and fair policies that benefit our marine environment and coastal communities," said Tavish Scott from Salmon Scotland. "It's important that we push this message home, so we're calling on people to sign the petition once it goes live on the Parliament's website!" Elspeth Macdonald concluded.
Until the petition has been published on the Scottish Parliament website, the 'Seafood Coalition' has set up a form where those interested in signing can submit their email addresses to receive a copy of the petition once it is available.