FIGHT FOR THE FUTURE: Harris skipper urges Isles MSP to take stronger stance on HPMAs

Many fear the impact of new designations on the fishing industry Pic Willie Urquhart

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan MSP needs to stop “downplaying” the concerns voiced by fishermen over the threat to their livelihoods posed by a controversial new environmental designation, it was claimed this week.

Harris fisherman Iain Dix has been in correspondence with Mr Allan over the last few weeks on the subject of Highly Protected Marine Areas.

As part of the coalition deal with the Green Party, the SNP are committed to covering “at least” 10 per cent of Scottish water with this designation, under which all forms of fishing, including recreational angling, can be banned.

In his official response to the Scottish Government consultation on the issues, Mr Allan said: “I have been engaging with a range of stakeholders in the Western Isles in relation to their considerable concerns about the proposal to designate at least 10 per cent of Scotland’s seas as Highly Protected Marine Areas.

“This consultation response reflects the outcome of that engagement as well as the concerns that have been expressed to me more generally.

“It has been highlighted by many of my constituents that there is the potential for unintended negative consequences, both socio-economically and environmentally, as a result of designating HPMAs in areas where fishing already has a low environmental impact.

“This is particularly a concern, given that some of the restrictions in an HPMA could (depending on how they were implemented) restrict even the lowest-impact activities. Some of the options being consulted on at present include even catch and release angling and even (a little incredibly) swimming.

“I am grateful for this opportunity to convey these views, and would be very willing to facilitate further engagement between the Scottish Government and affected stakeholders in the Western Isles in the weeks and months ahead.”

Harris skipper Iain Dix

Mr Dix said Mr Allan’s response was “totally lacking in the seriousness conveyed to you in the past number of weeks” by your constituents.

He told the MSP: “Where you talk of ‘concerns’ and ‘potential damage’, the fishing industry and our representatives have repeatedly told you of the sheer anger and disbelief regarding these proposals, and the obliteration of our industry and islands they will bring.

“Where you talk of ‘unintended consequences’ of these proposals, the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar primary industries working group tell you they will be ‘devastating to the economy of the Outer Hebrides’, will ‘decimate the fisheries sector”, and ‘devastate some of our most peripheral communities’.”

“Where you talk of the community’s strength of feeling as ‘very significant’, the community councils on the Isle of Harris have described the feeling as ‘insulting and devastating to those who live here’.

“The Primary Industries Working Group told you of their “unanimous opposition and very real anger”, and that the Comhairle would “strenuously and vigorously reject” any HPMA proposal. 

“In your conclusion you state ‘I am grateful for this opportunity to convey these views’ You have not conveyed the true views of your constituents. If anything, you have downplayed them.”

The Scottish Government consultation on the environment ministry proposals is due to end on 17th of this month.