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Letters / ‘Unfair and unobjective’

Fishermen are not convinced that the local letters pages are the most fruitful place to hold the discussions that Ariane Burgess says she wants to encourage.

However, her misguided correspondence continues to be unfair and unobjective – and needs publicly denouncing.

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

As Ms Burgess’ own constituents, fishing crews in Shetland are utterly vexed at the lack of understanding that she has displayed here, and her unwillingness to re-consider. Let us make the point again: that no one – even, or especially, a Scottish Green Party MSP – has more interest in preserving fish stocks around Shetland than the family-owned fishing fleet that relies on them for a sustainable future.

Far from the apology and correction that had been asked for – not only by Shetland’s fishing crews, but by much of the wider community – Ms Burgess has chosen to double down on her rhetoric.

The widespread anger and disappointment caused by her ill-advised Shetland Times column seems, astonishingly, to have gone completely over her head. Ms Burgess must be a savvy political operator indeed, as we simply cannot see how this bold vote winning strategy could possibly reap rewards for herself, or any local green candidates, in a fishing community like Shetland.

If you come after Shetland’s fishing heritage, you better not miss. Ms Burgess missed – big time – but fails to recognise this.

Ms Burgess seems remarkably keen to put faith in Scottish Government commitments. We ask her, then: what about commitments such as the ambition to double the Scottish food sector’s value to £30billion per year by 2030? How can this possibly be achieved through green party policies: which have long made grim reading for crofters, salmon farmers and fishermen alike?

The bottom line is that this planet needs food: more of it than ever before. Commercial fishing – to Ms Burgess’ shock horror – involves catching fish that live in the sea, which people then eat, in order not to starve. This is a healthy, sustainable and – above all – low carbon source of nutritious protein. With all of the economic support that fishing brings to rural places like Shetland, especially so through its locally owned fleet, does this not sound like exactly the kind of thing that ‘greens’ who claim to represent Shetland should be supportive of?

Any impacts from some types of fishing need to be weighed against the food and jobs and various other benefits that they help provide. All human activity has some impact on the environment. Consider the comparison with farming: ploughing a field does more ‘damage’ to the land than trawling or dredging does to the seabed, yet no one is suggesting that ploughing be banned. Perhaps that will be next, mind you.

Ms Burgess appears to be drawing a link between ‘poor condition’ seabed and the ‘extinction’ of fish stocks and other sea life. Why then, if parts of the seabed around Shetland are already in this ‘poor condition’, do we also see fish stocks and other species at high and increasing levels of abundance?

A Scottish Government report – published last month – found that marine species including fish, sharks, cephalopods, bivalves, crustaceans, and other invertebrates have increased hugely in abundance over the past 20 years. However, these trifling facts do not fit well with the narrative of crisis and emergency that, somehow, fishermen should be blamed for.

Shetlanders are well aware of the current plans for Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs), as they pose the single greatest spatial threat to our prized and valued sustainable fishing industry. That fishing industry desperately needs more sensible, just, and realistic reasoning from its government.

Designating 10 per cent of Scotland’s seas as Highly Protected Marine Areas would be the equivalent of preventing all human activity across a land area larger than Dumfries and Galloway, Aberdeenshire or Lothian and Borders.

HPMAs fail to address the biggest threats to Scotland’s environment (which are predominantly on land) but appear to be an easy way for greens in government  to maximise their eco-credentials at a minimum cost to the inhabitants of the Central Belt – and a maximum cost to rural fishing communities.

I would also encourage everyone in Shetland to complete the current HPMA public consultation, whilst keeping all of the above in mind, and hoping that someone in government shows better sense than Ms Burgess has in her unfortunate correspondence this week.

If Ms Burgess ever wishes to consider any alternative views, or even evidence, she remains welcome to seek a fuller understanding of Shetland’s fishing fleet through discussions with the SFA.

Daniel Lawson
Executive Officer
On behalf of Shetland Fishermen’s Association

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