Net Zero Secretary Mairi McAllan: "I am determined to protect our oceans in a way that is fair."

Scottish Government throttles back plans for no-go zones in the sea

Highly Protected Marine Areas won't go ahead as proposed

Published Last updated

Proposals to ban aquaculture and fishing from at least 10% of Scotland’s seas by 2026 by creating Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) “will not be progressed”, the Scottish Government said today.

But the government will support groups that wish to pursue community-led marine protection in their local area on a quicker timescale, Net Zero Secretary Mairi McAllan announced.

The plans to introduce HPMAs were hugely controversial and led to three Scottish National Party MSPs including former Cabinet Secretaries Kate Forbes and Fergus Ewing voting against their party and three others abstaining in a vote on the issue.

A consultation about HPMAs prompted 4,000 responses and fears that the proposals would destroy fragile coastal communities that rely on fishing and aquaculture. Ewing described the consultation document as “a notice of execution” for fishing communities.

A seafood alliance representing the fishing, fish farming, and processing sectors was formed to fight HPMAs, and launched a petition against the Scottish Government's proposals.

Total opposition

Tavish Scott, chief executive of trade body Salmon Scotland, said: “HPMAs united coastal communities and MSPs in total opposition, as they posed a risk of banning all human activity from vast swathes of Scotland’s coastline.

“We welcome the Scottish Government's confirmation that HPMAs, as currently conceived, will be scrapped.

Tavish Scott: "This decision comes as a massive relief to salmon farmers."

“This decision comes as a massive relief to salmon farmers and others who were concerned about the impact on their jobs.

“I am grateful to all the MSPs who have spoken up in support of our sector during these difficult months and to those who signed our petition outside Holyrood a fortnight ago.

“We commit to working with the Scottish Government to develop workable proposals that safeguard both livelihoods and the marine environment on which they rely.”

SNP and Greens

HPMAs were part of the Bute House Agreement between the SNP and the Scottish Green Party. The agreement gave the Greens influence over policy in return for supporting the minority SNP administration in the Scottish Parliament.

Net Zero Secretary Mairi McAllan, who has championed the proposals, today told the Scottish Parliament that plans to deliver increased protection for Scotland’s marine environment will be revised, with a new pathway and timetable, and that the proposals to deliver HPMAs by 2026 will not be progressed.

Instead, the Scottish Government 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, such as those initiatives in Lamlash Bay on Arran and St Abbs & Eyemouth in Berwickshire.

Next steps

“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,” said McAllan. “Therefore, while we remain firmly committed to the outcome of enhanced marine protection, the proposal as consulted on will not be progressed.

“I will outline more on our next steps after the summer recess, but I hope that 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.”

In her statement, McAllan also said that an ongoing programme of work to implement fisheries management measures in existing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) where they are yet to be introduced, and to protect some of the most vulnerable Priority Marine Features outside of MPAs, will be taken forward as a priority.

MPAs cover 37% of Scotland’s seas, and around a third of Scotland’s salmon farms are in MPAs, some of which were created many years after the farms were established.

'A bad policy rebranded'

In anticipation of today's announcement by McAllan, the seafood coaltion yesterday warned ministers that rebranding HPMAs to make them more palatable to coastal communities would be a grave error.

Speaking on behalf of the coalition, Scottish Fishermen's Federation chief executive Elspeth Macdonald said: “Nobody cares more about our marine environment than those who are dependent upon it for their livelihoods – from fishermen to salmon farmers to fish processors.

“Opposition to this policy, which lacks scientific rationale, is widespread throughout our coastal communities. The Scottish Government needs to scrap it, not rebrand it, and carry out a complete rethink without pandering to the Greens whose desire to halt legitimate economic activity with a low carbon footprint is dangerous and damaging.”