The Scottish government is exploring proposals to ban commercial and recreational fishing in 10 percent of Scotland’s waters by 2026.
As marine conservation becomes a high-priority issue across the world, the concept of so-called Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMA) is being expanded.
HPMAs, also known as "no-take zones," are areas of the ocean where all forms of extraction – including fishing – are prohibited.
The proposal to establish such areas in Scotland is sparking considerable debate and controversy, pitting environmental advocates against political factions and some community representatives.
"It blows my mind that anyone thought it was a good idea to displace 10 percent of the fishing industry without a plan," Alistair Bally Philp, coordinator for the Scottish Creel Fishermen's Federation, told IntraFish.
"There is a distinct lack of proposals, policies or frameworks that would deal with the displacement and squeeze that comes from these HPMAs," he added.
Adding another layer of complexity to the issue, the HPMA proposal has also exposed divisions within the fragile coalition binding the Scottish National Party (SNP) with the Scottish Green Party.
Under the Bute House Agreement, a power-sharing arrangement between the two parties established in August 2021, the Scottish government committed to designating at least 10 percent of Scotland’s seas as HPMAs by 2026.
"In the absence of wider fisheries management, no one in their right mind would want one. That's not a criticism of the idea of HPMAs themselves, but rather of the total lack of a comprehensive fisheries management plan," Philp said.
Without a plan that can handle potential displacement, Philp predicts a catastrophe for any community with an HPMA on its doorstep, especially for small-scale boats such as creelers.
"For a trawler, they can move patch, but if you are a creel fishing boat or community, it could be devastating both for individual businesses and that community. It is encouraging to see such a wide range of stakeholders recognize this," Philp said, with reference to recent statements by Salmon Scotland, the trade body representing the salmon farming industry.
Tavish Scott, chief executive of Salmon Scotland, applauded the unusual degree of consensus across the seafood industry on the issue.
“Rarely has one policy united so many different sectors and communities across the highlands and islands in opposition," he said.
“Ministers must do two things: keep the promise not to impose HPMAs on any community opposed to them, and bring forward revised proposals based on scientific evidence."
Fishing contributes more than £560 million ($696 million/€651 million) to Scotland’s economy, according to figures from the Scottish Parliament.
Farmed salmon directly employs 2,500 people in Scotland and a further 10,000 jobs are dependent on the sector.
Fresh, whole Scottish salmon exports between January and March reached £134 million (€155 million/$165 million), an 18 percent increase from the same period in 2022.