Scottish HPMAs consultation reveals 'polarised' views on fishing bans
The Scottish Government has renewed its decision to scrap controversial HPMA plans after a consultation found half of respondents were in favour of the fishing bans.
Ministers committed to banning fishing and other activity in Highly-Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) around Scotland's coastline as part of the Bute House Agreement which brought the Scottish Greens into government.
At least 10 per cent of the seas around Scotland were to be covered by 2026, with restrictions on marine renewable energy and seaweed harvesting as well as all forms of fishing.
The plans, aimed at protecting biodiversity, were supported by conservation bodies but provoked outrage in coastal communities, with a protest song by trad band Skippinish comparing the policy to the Highland Clearances.
The backlash was so strong that net zero secretary Mairi McAllan announced the plan had been scrapped.
The statement was made in June, when McAllan said the Scottish Government would "work cooperatively with communities to identify how and where to enhance marine protection in a way that minimises impact and maximises opportunity".
highly polarised views
Responses to the HPMAs consultation have now been published and reveal more messages in support of the restrictions than against them.
Analysis shows 55 per cent of respondents supported the introduction of HPMAs, with 43 per cent opposing it.
A "large majority" of those in favour of the change had submitted campaign responses following a push by environmental forum Scottish Environment LINK.
When the "campaign responses" from this and other groups were removed, 76 per cent of respondents said they opposed the aims and purpose of HPMAs, with only 20 per cent in favour.
Analysis by the Scottish Government found "highly polarised views" on the matter masks "a great deal of common ground shared by respondents in relation to the importance of protecting the marine environment and marine ecosystems, as well as agreement on many aspects of how that might be achieved".
These include direct involvement of communities in developing marine conservation areas, evidence-based measures, an "appropriate balance" between conservation needs and those of communities, a "coherent management plan" rules imposed and support for low-impact fishing.
Publishing the results today, the Scottish Government confirmed it "no longer intends to progress the establishment of new legal powers for introducing HPMAs in Scottish inshore waters through a Bill in the Scottish Parliament in this parliamentary term".
I am determined to protect our oceans in a way that is fair
McAllan said: "My thanks go to everyone who took the time to respond to the consultation and to those who have continued to engage constructively with me and other ministers over the summer.
"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.
"As a priority, this includes completing management measures for our existing Marine Protect Area network and protecting our Priority Marine Features."
She went on: "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."