Scottish Government scraps HPMAs amidst community outcry
The Scottish Government has jettisoned plans for Highly-Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) following an outcry from local communities.
Island and coastal communities hit out at the SNP-Green administration's plans to increase protections for marine life across 10 per cent of Scotland's seas by 2026.
Critics claimed moves to ban fishing activity from the zones would harm jobs and lead to depopulation.
The backlash was so strong that a protest song by folk band Skipinnish, likening the policy to the Highland Clearances, topped the charts and was quoted in parliament.
Now Net Zero Secretary Mairi McAllan has confirmed HPMAs will "not be progressed" as part of major revisions to the marine environment plan.
Instead, the Scottish Government said it will "take more time to work with industry, communities and conservation organisations to enhance marine protection, while supporting any groups that wish to pursue community-led marine protection in their local area on a quicker timescale".
Thousands of people responded to the HPMAs consultation.
All parties in the Scottish Parliament committed to improving marine protections, but HPMAs became a topic of contention, despite support from some environmental groups.
The UK Government also has its own HPMA plans and is to create three in English waters by 6 July.
That's despite the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, calling on Scottish ministers to U-turn on their plan.
McAllan said: "We are in the midst of a nature and climate crisis and we must be prepared to take action commensurate with the scale of that challenge.
"Failure to safeguard and improve the resilience of Scotland's marine ecosystems to a changing climate risks the very basis on which our marine industries and coastal communities are build.
"We chose to consult as early and widely as possible on the principles of HPMAs, with no pre-determined sites. It has always been, and continues to be, this government's plan to work cooperatively with communities to identify how and where to enhance marine protection in a way that minimises impact and maximises opportunity.
"Therefore, while we remain firmly committed to the outcome of enhanced marine protection, the proposal as consulted on will not be progressed."
The Scottish Government will announce its next steps after summer recess.
McAllan said: "I hope it is clear that 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 remote, coastal and island communities."
HPMAs were a dividing line between Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes during the SNP leadership battle, with the Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP calling for the policy to be scrapped. Responding to McAllan's announcement, her office called it a "victory for island communities".
Forbes said: "This is a welcome change in tack by the Scottish Government. I am relieved that the Scottish Government has agreed to halt the proposal for Highly Protected Marine Areas as consulted on earlier this year.
"I said in March that I would ditch HPMAs if elected as leader, knowing how widespread opposition was amongst coastal communities. That was born of genuine fear for the future of rural communities, as fishing is a lifeline for many.
"I am grateful to the cabinet secretary, who has listened to appeals from across Scotland and acted decisively. This announcement will come as an immense relief to those who. understood the risk to coastal communities from the very beginning.
"Of course, it is now critical that any new proposals for marine protected areas take into account communities’ views, fishermen’s lived experiences and the importance of a truly just transition. I have confidence in any new proposals that are shaped by fishermen."
The commitment to HPMAs is one of several eco measures included in the Bute House Agreement which brought the Scottish Greens into government with the SNP.
Lib Dem rural affairs spokeswoman Beatrice Wishart commented: "This is testament to the power and voice of rural and remote communities who were united in their opposition. They were incensed by the way the SNP and Greens were determined to impose rigid and damaging policies and failed to listen from the outset.
"It was clear from the start that this was pursued to appease the Bute House Agreement and little do with the sustainability of either the seas or the communities who live and work in them.
"There will be a sigh of relief that the government has finally accepted that it got this badly wrong.
“Communities will need assurances that future policy doesn’t make the same mistakes, is led by scientific evidence, meaningful engagement and a proper understanding of all the factors that go into making our communities and fisheries sustainable."
Green MSP Ariane Burgess welcomed McAllan's announcement, saying: "The Scottish Greens have championed community involvement from the outset, they need to be at the heart of what we do next, which is why we are pleased the minister has not only recommitted to marine protections, but committed to community-led input.
"But it also recognises that we must do something to prevent damage and exploitation of our seas by striking a balance, something that seems to have been lost on opposition parties who have tried to weaponise the nature emergency."