Marine / HPMA proposal only at the drawing board stage, rural affairs secretary insists

Islands secretary Mairi Gougeon in Lerwick on Tuesday morning. Photo: Dave Donaldson

THE SCOTTISH Government has defended its approach of introducing highly protected marine areas (HPMAs) and has reiterated its commitment to working with communities affected by the proposals.

Cabinet secretary for rural affairs Mairi Gougeon was in Shetland today (Tuesday) to meet with local fishing representatives and discuss the hugely controversial issue.

Fishermen say the proposal to designate as much as ten per cent of Scottish waters as HPMAs is “anti-fishing”, ideologically driven and based on no scientific evidence.

The government has received more than 4,500 responses to its initial consultation on the policy it hopes to be able to introduce by 2026.

Speaking to Shetland News ahead of a meeting with fishermen’s representatives on Tuesday, Gougeon said it would take some time to go through the thousands of responses received.

She said: “I am here to listen to the concerns and to those who have responded to the consultation and engage with the difference industries that could be impacted by this – and to listen to those concerns directly.


“The consultation recently closed, we got about 4,500 responses, so I think it is really important to take the time to analyse and got through those responses before then setting out the next steps.

“It is important to remember that we are not at the end of the process; we are at the very start of it. There have been suggestions that we need to go back to the drawing board, which I think is not entirely fair, because that’s the stage we are at.”

Referring to England, she added that other areas where HPMAs had been proposed had not been consulted with local communities and industries as early as the Scottish Government had.

“We have not come with any proposals for sites because we want to engage with communities as early as possible,” she said.

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But Shetland Fishermen’s Association executive officer Daniel Lawson said it appeared as though the government was surprised by the force of opposition and was in the process of “back peddling” from its original approach.

Lawson said it was beyond him how the government could commit to 10 percent of HPMAs by 2026, and then claim they were still in the early stages of the process.

He said the government had asked for the hour-long meeting on Tuesday which took place in Lystina, part of Lerwick Town Hall.

Lawson said the cabinet secretary had come to listen to the SFA’s concerns and that is what she did.

Gougeon told Shetland News that she was not able to give a definite timetable as to the next steps, including proposals of areas which could become HMPAs, as all this would depend on the time it will take to go through the consultation responses.


She said she wanted to make the point that she was well aware of how important the seafood industries are for Shetland.

“We see a strong future for that regardless,” she said, “It has been an important part of Shetland’s and of Scotland’s economy for a long time and it will continue to be a strong part going forward.”

Gougeon acknowledged the work that has been done by the Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO) and other conservation measures in other island communities but added that more need to be done.

“We know that we need to take more action than what we are at the moment,” she said.

“If you look at all the indicators of how our eco systems are doing, we are not at a good state in 11 out of 15 ecosystem health objectives, so I think more action needs to be taken.

“I am also interested to hear if there are any other ideas of how to better manage areas, so, yes, very keen to engage.”

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