Letters / ‘A different approach is needed’ – Highlands and Islands Green MSP Ariane Burgess responds to her critics

I’d like to thank the two correspondents who contacted Shetland News about my column in last week’s Shetland Times.

While one never writes a column seeking to cause upset, I do hope to encourage discussion. It’s clear that the future of inshore fishing in Shetland is a subject people are passionate about.

I want to encourage that passion because it’s only through caring deeply about, and making the case for, sustainable fishing that we will secure a future for the industry in Shetland – as in the rest of Scotland.

My overarching motivation for writing the column was to bring attention to the current Scottish Government’s consultation on Highly Protected Marine Areas with the hope that more people would engage and share their perspective. So, I trust this won’t get lost in the misunderstanding that what I was writing about was the region, rather than Shetland. The consultation closes on 20 March.


My column started out with a focus on Shetland, but where I write “it is incumbent on us to see Scotland’s seas as a whole”, it shifts to the picture in the region. I can see from the engagement with my column that I could have been clearer in my transition from Shetland to the whole region.

I also realise from the response that people living and working in Shetland very much want a fully focussed Shetland column and I will bear this in mind in the future.

Engagement with the HPMA process is important. Scotland is committed through the Marine Strategy Regulations (which replaced the EU Marine Framework Directive) to managing our seas to good environmental status by 2020. That’s two years ago and Scotland as a whole has not achieved that duty.


In addition, through the UK Fisheries (2020) Act we are required to manage our seas through an ecosystems-based approach, keeping pressures to a level consistent with Good Environmental Status. These commitments come out of a great concern that if we don’t move to managing our fisheries to Good Environmental Status there will be no fisheries for future generations.

To achieve Good Environmental Status, we are required to have only 15 per cent of the seabed in “poor condition”. But by the Scottish Government’s own assessment, 80 per cent of Shetland’s seafloor is in ‘poor condition’ due to towed, bottom-contacting fishing. That is 65 per cent points higher than the good environmental status threshold set by the Marine Strategy Regulations.

Without HPMAs it will be exceedingly difficult to reach these commitments. This is because, unfortunately, Scotland’s fisheries management policies up to this point have not prioritised longevity of fish stocks and ecosystem health – so a different approach is needed.


At some point we have to see the biggest picture – that we are facing climate change and rapid species extinction, which, if we don’t do something about will mean there is not much left for future generations in Shetland, Scotland or anywhere on the planet.

In terms of the specific points raised by your correspondents: sadly, there is substantial evidence for the decline in marine life in Shetland and elsewhere in Scotland. Shetland benefits from longitudinal research on fish numbers carried out by the UHI and this clearly evidences that, with the exception of squid – which are known to have a relatively simple population structure as they are short-lived and breed only once – the catch from inshore waters has been falling for all the major fish species monitored.


The research also makes clear that Shetland’s inshore waters are vital nursery areas for commercial species including cod, plaice and monkfish – making the protection of these areas all the more important for the future of a sustainable fisheries sector.

Through the Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation’s management of the inshore up to six nautical miles, Shetland has done tremendous work in managing the shellfish fisheries within maximum sustainable yield. This is something that Shetland could perhaps provide guidance on to other parts of Scotland.

In terms of population and demographics, while Shetland’s population has increased by 4.5 per cent over the last two decades, that is almost half the national average of 8.2 per cent. This reflects that Shetland’s overall population is ageing – the smallest age group in Shetland is 16-to-24 year-olds, the young people I was referencing; a population cohort that has declined by over 5 per cent over the same time period.


In terms of the issues related to international vessels, I have raised this with the Scottish Government and Marine Scotland, and will continue to do so.

Shetland has a strong track record for taking responsibility for its marine environment and excelling at sustainable marine management, especially in the shellfish sector.

We need to learn from that work, look inward for the solutions to the problems we face and be willing to have the difficult conversations needed to ensure a thriving future for our fisheries sector.

Ariane Burgess
Green list MSP for the Highlands and Islands



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