Parliamentary sketch: National Marine Plan

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 26 February 2015 in Comment

A debate over the National Marine Plan was one to treasure

Drawing up the National Marine Plan forced policymakers to walk a tightrope.

The plan has to protect the fishing industry while also controlling it, support the oil and gas sector and the aquaculture industries while also transitioning to renewable energy, and protect the environment – all at the same time.

Concerns remain over aspects of the draft, for example the fact current proposals allow for scallop dredging and bottom trawling in parts of the Marine Protected Areas. But then any attempt to bring so many areas of interest together under a single framework was going to be difficult.

So it is lucky that Scotland’s policymakers know the seas better than any rum-soaked pirate ever did. And they brought all that expertise to the debate on the plan last week.

Claudia Beamish, for instance, told an illuminating story about the time she met a crab.

She boasted: “At the start of this Scottish Environment Week I held a hermit crab in my hand here in the Scottish Parliament.”

If the members were jealous of Beamish’s experience, which can be achieved on beaches across Scotland, there was even more to come. Beamish even made friends with the crab.

“It came out of its shell home to check me out as I checked it out. Its delicate grace and inquisitiveness were palpable.”

"Never before had the need for the Scottish Government to issue cutlasses been so pressing"

But she did not kill the crab.

“I carefully placed it back in a small tank, and I reassure members that the Marine Conservation Society returned it to the sea on Monday night.”

Given that no one had suggested she had harmed the crab in any way, this seemed suspiciously defensive. Someone should probably trace it and check it is ok.

Still, Beamish was broadly supportive of the draft plan, though she reminded the chamber of concerns that the draft is “too detailed and prescriptive” in some parts and “too vague” in others.

The debate was led by Richard ‘ol sea dog’ Lochhead (pictured), Scotland’s Swarthy Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment, who had started off by emphasising the importance of Scotland’s seas.

“Our sea area is six times the landmass of Scotland, with over 460,000km2 of some of the most productive and diverse waters on the whole planet. Those seas support habitats ranging from shallow estuaries to deep sea coral reefs, and more than 6,000 marine species, including more than 20 species of marine mammals such as seals and dolphins. Our seabird population is vast - as large as our human population - and includes a number of protected species.”

Scurvy Stewart Stevenson then interjected to ask if Lochhead was aware that fishing boats from other nations were operating to the disadvantage of our fishermen.

He asked: “Will the minister call on the UK Government to give us greater powers, so that we have equality of access to our waters?”

But what powers could stop these brigands? Cannons? Never before had the need for the Scottish Government to issue cutlasses been so pressing – yet the Smith Agreement left them out of future devolution entirely.

But Lochhead had no time for this. “Unfortunately, the marine plan does not usurp the common fisheries policy.”

No usurping? What sort of pirate is he?

It was not clear.

Lochhead then, having seemingly carried out some sort of King Canute type exercise, was forced to admit that the oceans have not yet adhered to the concept of national sovereignty.

“The seas do not respect boundaries”.

This is true. The seas are a fickle beast, with no concept of national identity – that’s probably why Yes lost in the referendum.

As such, “we must work in partnership across sectors and nations to manage them well”.

So while you may not be able to control the sea, you can at least try to plan it.

And though there are concerns still to be addressed in moving from the draft plans, at least MSPs can take comfort that it is better to walk a tightrope than walk the plank.

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