Under the Brexit deal, fishermen and vulnerable rural communities such as in the Highlands have been left at a great disadvantage thanks to the UK Government casting them aside. The Scottish Government has stepped up to support this industry as it is valuable for our exporting markets, crucial for our rural communities, and can be conducted in a sustainable matter.
As fishing is a fully devolved area, the Scottish Government under the SNP has managed our marine environment under the guiding principle that our natural environment - its wildlife and the biodiversity which depend on it, must be conserved and protected for future generations.
The Scottish Government is continuing to work with other relevant fishery national authorities in Wales, Northern Ireland and England through the Fisheries Act 2020 to fulfil our Joint Fisheries Statement which aims to promote protecting and, where necessary, recover our fish stocks; reduce the effects of fishing on the marine and coastal environment; and support a modern, resilient, and environmentally responsible fishing industry.
Through the blue economy action plan, the SNP will seek to reduce harmful practices and consequences such as marine littering, marine plastics, pollution and reduce carbon emissions from marine activity – in particular, we will explore the potential for low carbon fishing vessels to be deployed on inshore waters.
In terms of environmental protection, the SNP Scottish Government has been leading by example with more than 37% of Scotland’s seas covered by Marine Protected Areas which is past the proposed global targets for 2030 currently being negotiated by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. This equates to 227,622 kilometres conserved for natural biodiversity and safeguarded geology from threats such as illegal poachers’ nets, seabed dredging and marine litter.
In the Scottish Government’s recent Programme for Government over the course of this parliament, the Scottish Government will take steps to introduce Highly Protected Marine Areas covering at least 10% of our waters by 2026 and consult stakeholders on fisheries management measures for both offshore and inshore Marine Protected Areas and on Priority Marine Features.
Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) will provide additional environmental protection over and above the existing MPA network, by establishing sites which will provide protection from all extractive, destructive or depositional activities including all fisheries, aquaculture, and other infrastructure developments, while allowing other activities, such as tourism or recreational water activities, at non-damaging levels. HPMAs may overlap with current MPAs. In these cases, they will provide extra environmental protection additional to that afforded by existing MPAs.
This commitment highlights the Scottish Government’s leadership on biodiversity protections ahead of announcements of new global biodiversity targets.
Despite these efforts the current devolved settlement fails to give Scotland the levers we need to fully tackle the challenges we face. The Scottish Parliament does not have legislative competence for offshore waters. The UK Government needs to devolve powers to the Scottish Parliament so we can continue to implement HPMAs.
More must be done by the UK Government and across the world to protect our natural environment and biodiversity in our seas if we are to prevent overfishing, reduce bycatch, promote sustainability, to manage and protect marine wildlife and ensure we conserve our waters for the future.