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Government U-turn confirmed on controversial plans to expand Scottish Highly Protected Marine Areas

By Neil MacPhail

Stormy seas off the east coast of Caithness. Picture: Alan Hendry
Stormy seas off the east coast of Caithness. Picture: Alan Hendry

The Scottish Government has confirmed it is dropping plans to expand the contentious Scottish Highly Protected Marine Areas. (HPMAs)

It has published today (Tuesday) its response to the findings of a consultation into the proposed expansion.

The proposals to restrict fishing and other human activities in some coastal areas were designed to protect wildlife and the environment, but members of the fishing industry, Highland and island communities and even some SNP MSPs had raised concerns about the scheme.

Net Zero Secretary Màiri McAllan said: “In response to the findings of the consultation, and as I set out in Parliament earlier this year, the proposal to implement HPMAs across 10% of Scotland’s seas by 2026 will not be progressed.

“My thanks go to everyone who took the time to respond to the consultation and to those who have continued to engage constructively with me and other ministers over the summer.

"The Government is firmly committed to protecting our marine environment and will continue to work closely with coastal communities and industries to protect Scotland’s seas for the benefit of all.

"As a priority this includes completing management measures for our existing Marine Protected Area (MPA) network and protecting our Priority Marine Features.

“I am determined to protect our oceans in a way that is fair, and to find a way forward that ensures our seas remain a source of prosperity for the nation, especially in our coastal and island communities.”

Scottish Labour Rural Affairs spokesperson Rhoda Grant welcomed the U-turn.

She said “The SNP-Green government’s proposals would have been a hammer blow to Scotland’s fishing industry and the plans have been squarely rejected by the communities affected.

“It is right that the Scottish Government has finally listened to the overwhelming opposition to these plans and gone back to the drawing board – and it is essential that they learn the lessons from this debacle.

“From now on, the SNP-Green government must start working with rural communities to design plans that work for them.

“We need to empower local communities to deliver management schemes in line with local needs so we can secure a sustainable future for Scottish fishing and ensure communities get the economic benefit.”

The Scottish Government’s full response to the Scottish HPMAs consultation and the analysis of consultation responses have now been published.

As well as HPMAs not being introduced in 10% of Scottish seas by 2026,

the draft HPMA Policy Framework and draft Site Selection Guidelines, as consulted on, will not be finalised and published.

And the the Scottish Government no longer intends to progress the establishment of new legal powers for introducing HPMAs in Scottish inshore waters through a Bill in the Scottish Parliament this parliamentary term.

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