Isles representatives welcome confirmation that HPMA plans will not progress

7 Nov 2023

Northern Isles representatives Alistair Carmichael MP, Beatrice Wishart MSP and Liam MacArthur MSP have today welcomed confirmation by the Scottish government that proposed Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) will not go ahead as planned. The Scottish government responded to a public consultation on the proposals, noting “firm opposition” but also “clear support for the goals of protecting and conserving our marine environment”. The isles representatives called on the Scottish government to take a new approach to marine protection, restoring trust and letting island and coastal communities lead the process.

The consultation found that responses were “highly polarised”, with 55% of all respondents supporting the introduction of HPMAs and 43% of respondents opposed. When mass campaign responses were removed, the views of respondents were 76% opposed, and 20% supporting the proposal.

Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael said:

“The admission that HPMAs will not go ahead as planned is welcome news. We have to be clear, however, that the SNP-Green government did not do this by choice but because fishing communities across Scotland stood up to challenge these top-down proposals.

“This will, I hope, be a chance for ministers to learn the lesson that policies which affect coastal and island communities cannot be run from the Central Belt. We all want to see a healthy and protected marine environment but that needs to be led by local communities, with fishermen an integral part of the discussion. If the government’s plan is just to wait a while and then try again then it will meet with the same result.”

Shetland MSP, Beatrice Wishart said:

“The Scottish Government misjudged the strength of feeling in coastal communities about the proposed HPMA plans. The failure to fully engage before introducing HPMA plans to ban fishing in 10% of the seas around Scotland damaged the Scottish Government’s credibility in the eyes of many coastal communities.

“HPMA proposals lacked a solid scientific basis and moved away from the model of marine protection already in place which was developed in partnership with the fishing industry and communities.

“Trust will need to be rebuilt to help address climate change and protect marine biodiversity.”

Orkney MSP Liam MacArthur said:

“The SNP/Green government’s attempt to impose HPMAs in Scottish waters met fierce resistance from island and coastal communities all around Scotland. It was a top-down approach that turned upside down years of partnership working with the fishing sector and others key stakeholders.

“Confirmation that the plans have been dumped is welcome, but there’s no doubt that damage has already been done by this episode. In the short term, it affected investment and jobs within the fishing sector. Longer term, it has undermined confidence and trust in the government. That is unhelpful in the context of taking forward effective measures to maintain and enhance the marine environment.

“Going forward, this SNP/Green government needs to drop the ‘ministers know best’ attitude and work with island and coastal communities to deliver effective measures to maintain and enhance our marine environment”.