As collective representatives of hundreds of thousands of people who want a sustainable Scotland, we support well-managed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that protect our precious inshore areas from damaging fishing methods. This is not environmental dogma. It is evidence-based policy in action. And it is popular. Recently, nearly 5,000 people wrote to the Scottish Government backing our recommendations. In response, the Scottish Government has set out good plans that will restrict the most damaging types of fishing within inshore MPAs. The measures contain compromise, but we welcome them as urgent and necessary action to better manage the public resource of our seas.
Our MSPs are now looking at these plans and must navigate the choppy waters of coastal opinion. Some representatives of skippers who use bottom-towed fishing methods want to relax the management of MPAs. Their story must be heard.
But beneath the headlines, there is a deeper story – about democracy and representation around our shores. The majority of Scotland’s inshore fishermen (over 70% of the vessels that fish within 12 miles of our shore) are showing support for the proposed fisheries management measures in the MPAs (see pages 47-55 of recent submissions to the Rural Affairs Climate Change and Environment Committee). They stand to gain access to some areas that were previously dredged or trawled. And in the long-term more fishermen can reap the benefits due to the spillover of commercially high-value species from refuge areas. There is a net ecological and economic gain on offer.
Our political representatives must listen to those who have legitimate socio-economic concerns and provide financial support where possible, but they should not weaken the measures. They must listen to the scientists, economists and communities who have witnessed the sad and well-documented decline in the health of our seas. Our coastal communities are a bellwether of common sense. Too often dismissed as purely anecdotal, disappointing sea angling trips and fewer fish around the pier in fact confirm what Scotland’s best scientists have been telling us all for years: our inshore area is simply not as biodiverse and productive as it once was.
That’s why we support MPAs (see our briefing). Areas of our sea need to be given a chance to rest to allow an ecological recovery and, in turn, a rural economic recovery. It’s simple. We are trying to change Scotland. For the better.
There must be leadership to cut through the sometimes divisive rhetoric that surrounds opposition to these measures, because these MPAs are not a cure-all – they are one step on a longer journey. The proposed management covers just 3% of our inshore waters – and there are now calls for much broader reform of inshore fisheries.
But for the areas of our sea that we know contain vital habitats – nursery grounds for fish and other marine life – these MPAs should do what they say on the tin: ‘protect’ our marine areas. We cannot afford to take the ‘P’ out of our MPAs. If you agree, please support our campaign.