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Marine / Seafood industry and council to strongly object to highly protected marine area proposals

Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

SHETLAND’s seafood industries have come together to express deep concern over plans to introduce new conservation zones at sea – while the council has also expressed its “total opposition”.

The industries say in these Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMA) “aquaculture activity is set to be banned, with hundreds of jobs and millions of pounds of income lost”.

That warning will be made to the Scottish Government today (Wednesday) by representatives of Shetland’s seafood sector and its network of supporting companies as they unite to respond to a consultation on the issue.

Meanwhile a motion on the issue by development committee chairman Dennis Leask was passed at a meeting of the full Shetland Islands Council earlier today (Wednesday).

It said the council will respond to the government consultation in the “strongest terms”.

It comes after the council in the Western Isles similarly expressed opposition to the proposals.

The government’s aim is to see at least 10 per cent of Scottish waters designated as HPMAs by 2026.

It says HPMAs will provide “high levels of protection to important marine ecosystems by placing far stricter restrictions on what you can and cannot do within their boundaries”.

They will place strict limits on some human activities, such as fishing and aquaculture – and this has prompted serious concern from the Shetland industry.

According to Shetland Fishermen’s Association, Seafood Shetland, salmon and mussel farmers and companies in the seafood supply chain, these zones will effectively destroy long-established traditional industries without any evidence that they will achieve their conservation aims.

The sector is also calling on individuals and organisations in Shetland to read and respond to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the proposals, which closes on 17 April.

It is also seeking an urgent island-wide assessment of the proposals given the disproportionate impact they could have on an area like Shetland where seafood accounts for one-third of economic output.

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The industry added that “no account has been taken of the cumulative impact alongside offshore windfarm development – a spatial squeeze that could close 50% of Scotland’s waters to fishing by 2050”.

Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) executive officer Daniel Lawson said: “Shetland’s fishermen have proven in the past that they are not opposed to sensible conservation measures, recognising that strong fish stocks and healthy marine ecosystems are in their own interest – and in the wider interest of sustaining our fishing community.

“However, proposals for HPMAs are being driven by politics and pledges, and are devoid of any environmental imperative or scientific backing.”

Ruth Henderson, chief executive of Seafood Shetland, said: “The aquaculture industry is already highly regulated and has successfully operated in marine protected areas for years, so we adamantly oppose the introduction of a further protected area that could displace existing operations with no tangible benefit to the environment.

“We would remind the Scottish Government that the seafood industry generates around £650 million into the Scottish economy, provides essential employment in rural areas, and delivers a healthy and highly nutritious protein into the food chain. Factors that are often disregarded in the pursuit of vacuous conservation headlines.”

Tavish Scott, chief executive of Salmon Scotland, added that “marine biodiversity is vitally important, and this can be achieved through responsible stewardship of our seas”.

“Simply putting up barriers to companies and preventing responsible management of the sea threatens jobs in fragile coastal communities,” he continued.

“It also goes against the government’s stated aim to grow the blue economy and play our role in tackling global hunger and improve the nation’s health.”

The sector’s demands are supported by LHD, Ocean Kinetics, Malakoff, Northwards, Pelagia Shetland, Shetland Seafood Auctions, HNP Engineers, Inverlussa, BK Marine, Blydoit Fish and Island Fish Shetland.

In the council chamber on Wednesday the motion – which received broad support – said the impact on the industry will be “devastating”, adding that it would also affect the national transition away from carbon fuels seeing as the proposals could restrict renewable, hydrogen and carbon capture projects.

However convener Andrea Manson said work was already well underway by council officers to lodge its objection to the proposals.

Scottish environment minister Mairi McAllan previously said the sector “can only truly be a sustainable success story if we work together to address and mitigate any impacts on the natural environment, whilst providing positive outcomes for Scotland’s communities”.

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