Pushback strengthens against Scotland’s proposed plan for highly protected marine areas

Salmon Scotland Chief Executive Tavish Scott

The Scottish government’s commitment to designate at least 10 percent of Scotland’s seas as highly protected marine areas (HPMAs) by 2026 has garnered fierce opposition from fishermen’s associations, salmon farmers, shellfish producers, local councils, community trusts, some members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) and the U.K. Parliament (MPs), among others.

“This could be the death knell for the salmon farming industry, which is worth GBP 760 million [USD 951 million, EUR 874 million] to the Scottish economy,” Salmon Scotland Chief Executive Tavish Scott told SeafoodSource. “It threatens rural life in Scotland and could spark new Highland clearances.”

HPMAs aim to protect the seabed from human activity and allow marine ecosystems to recover from problems such as illegal fishing, but Scott said the consequences of implementing these protected areas will actually undercut their intended outcomes.

“The proposals … undermine the government's vision of a ‘blue economy’ and is counter to their policies aimed at promoting food security and boosting international trade,” he said.

Scotland’s strategy for establishing a blue economy includes fostering “innovative, entrepreneurial, productive, and internationally competitive” marine sectors; Becoming “a global leader in … sustainably harvested and farmed blue foods;” and establishing “thriving, resilient, regenerated, healthy communities [that] have more equal access to the benefits that ocean resources provide.”

A 15-month stakeholder consultation on the HPMA proposals, which ended in April 2023, elicited scores of responses. The next step in the process is a series of public workshops that will occur over the next 18 months with the goal of informing HPMA development. The final stage is a public consultation in 2025 before official designations of HPMA sites in 2026.

According to guidelines issued by NatureScot and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), a five-stage site selection process for the HPMAs will center on an ecosystem approach that includes protection for the seabed, water column, and marine life in each area under consideration. The presence of resources including blue carbon and essential fish habitats, as well as other components like protection of the coast from storms and sea level rise, research and education, and public enjoyment and appreciation, will all factor into the decision-making process.

Salmon Scotland, in response to the HPMA consultation, argued the proposed sites will place strict limits on key commercial activities such as fishing and aquaculture, as well as recreational activities, counter to Scotland’s blue economy objectives.

“As they stand, the proposals to implement a dogmatic ban on marine activity in huge swathes of waters will adversely affect the very people who live and work in the island and coastal communities and who already take great care to protect the natural assets they are so reliant upon,” Scott said.

A former politician, Scott is concerned that political interests steered by the Scottish National Party (SNP)-Green Party joint government deal are taking precedence over scientific evidence regarding sustainable growth and

Photo courtesy of Salmon Scotland

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