Mairi McAllan waves to photographers on her way to see Humza Yousaf at the FM's residence, Bute House, on the day she was appointed to her current role. McAllan today issued a statement promising to listen to concerns about HPMAs.

Minister pledges to listen as passions rise over HPMAs

I recognise the value that Scotland’s fishing and aquaculture sectors play in contributing to our economic prosperity, says McAllan


The minister leading the Scottish Government’s plan to ban fishing and aquaculture from at least 10% of Scottish seas today attempted to douse the flames of fury and fear ignited in coastal communities by the proposal.

Net Zero and Just Transition Secretary Mairi McAllan acknowledged the strength of feeling on the issue from those for and against the plan for Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) and insisted she will consider responses to a public consultation on the proposal very carefully.

However, she has not moved away from the principal of establishing HPMAs, which is a result of the Bute House Agreement between the ruling Scottish National Party and the Scottish Green Party. The Agreement gave the Greens two ministerial posts and influence over Scottish Government policy in return for supporting the SNP minority administration in parliamentary votes.

Politics before jobs

Salmon farming trade body Salmon Scotland yesterday accused the SNP of putting politics before jobs by pursuing HPMAs.

“There appears virtually no scientific justification about what HPMAs are intended to achieve,” said Salmon Scotland chief executive Tavish Scott yesterday. “Nor is there any evidence that aquaculture cannot coexist within HPMAs as we already do with marine protected areas.”

He added: “HPMAs appear to be politically driven, aimed at keeping the Greens on side rather than any real attempt to improve the health of our seas.”

There has been an even stronger reaction in the inshore fishing sector, with fishers worried that their livelihoods and their communities will be destroyed if HPMAs are imposed in their fishing grounds.

There is also opposition within the SNP, with Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch SNP MSP Kate Forbes calling HPMAs an example of how not to do government.

The Clearances Again

On Friday, Scottish folk stars Skipinnish released a new song, The Clearances Again. It was written by Skipinnish co-founder and fisherman Angus MacPhail and achieved a Top Ten iTunes download position on Saturday.

The song is sung by lifelong fisherman Donald Francis MacNeil, and includes the blunt lyrics: My life and my living must go, For the fashions of urban ideals, Where passions of ignorance play.

Commenting following the closure of the public consultation at midnight last night, McAllan said: “It is an unavoidable truth that we are in the midst of a climate and nature crisis and we must be prepared to take action commensurate with the scale of that challenge. However, it is also true that as we tackle the climate emergency, we must do so via a fair and just transition which empowers communities and shares in the benefits of a green economy.

“Our seas and their ecosystems are vital to a healthy environment and Scotland has some of the most beautiful and diverse marine ecosystems on the planet. We have to consider what more we can do to protect our precious natural environment and ensure productive and healthy seas are preserved for many generations to come.

Allowing recovery

“Proposals for Highly Protected Marine Areas, akin to those under development across the EU, are intended to offer a greater level of protection to our most precious marine life, allowing key species and habitats to recover, helping to tackle climate change, benefiting nature and supporting our blue economy.

“I recognise there is considerable strength of feeling on this issue – from those who support it and those who have concerns. It has always been our intention to develop these ambitious proposals in close collaboration with those impacted by them – in particular, people living and working in our island and coastal communities. That’s why we have chosen to consult right at the beginning of the process and why I have committed to now consider the responses to our initial consultation very carefully as we develop next steps.

“I want to give my assurance that I am listening and absolutely recognise the value that Scotland’s fishing and aquaculture sectors play in contributing to our economic prosperity. I will visit coastal and island communities in the coming months to hear directly from those affected.

Very early stages

“At the moment, we are at the very early stages of developing HPMAs and are yet to consider where they might be located as part of a separate process. There will be further opportunities for individuals, communities, and businesses to have their say on where and how we enhance our marine protection, and I am determined to ensure that as many voices as possible are heard.”

McAllan was environment minister in the government of former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and was promoted to the cabinet by current FM Humza Yousaf, regarded as Sturgeon’s continuity candidate in the SNP leadership election prompted by her resignation.

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon is responsible for aquaculture, but McAllan’s responsibilities intersect with Gougeon’s. McAllan’s portfolio includes the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), and the physical and marine environment.

The Scottish Green Party’s ministers, Lorna Slater (green skills, circular economy, and biodiversity) and Patrick Harvie (zero carbon buildings, active travel, and tenants’ right) are two of her three supporting ministers. The third is transport minister Kevin Stewart, an SNP MSP.