Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has called on the Scottish Government for a ten year moratorium on new environmental designations in and around the islands. It comes at a time when the SNP/Green coalition at Holyrood is raising fears in the fishing community of even more extensive prohibitions.
The islands are covered by almost 100 land-based designations while large areas of coastal waters are Marine Protected Areas with restrictions on fishing activity.
A meeting of the Comhairle’s sustainable development committee heard of “the inappropriate balance between development and environmental designations”. Chairman, Donald Crichton, has written to the environment minister, Mairi MacAllan, to reflect these concerns.
He wrote: “There is widespread belief that these designations have a negative impact on economic activity and potential. Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has taken the policy position that the balance between economic development and environmental protection/conservation is presently wrong and have sought a ten year moratorium on the introduction of new designations in the Outer Hebrides.
“The process of designation makes many in the local business and wider community feel totally disenfranchised. Many in the community feel angry about what they see as the imposition of designations against their wishes. This leaves many opposed to environmental designations on principle and creates mistrust around the motivations of Marine Scotland and environmental bodies in general.”
Mr Crichton says it has been “disappointing that over the term of this Comhairle we have repeatedly made the point about the harmful effects of designations in the Outer Hebrides and that we have not seen any signs of movement or consideration from the Scottish Government”.
Last November, the secretary of the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association, Duncan MacInnes, warned the industry faced its “biggest threat for 30 years” as a result of the policy agreement between the SNP and Greens which brought two Green ministers into the Scottish Government.
The proposed expansion of Marine Protection Areas had given rise to concerns about the viability of processing plants at Stornoway, Kallin and Ardveenish with the most immediate concerns around the expansion of enforcement powers in the Sound of Barra. The three locations account for a combined wage bill of around £2.5 million per annum.
Mr MacInnes said this week that Ms Macallan, at a recent meeting, said only that there would be a consultation paper later in the year. They had spelt out to her the implications in terms of jobs if commitments were implemented.
“We have had sustainable jobs at these three locations for the past 50 years and we can have them for the next 50 years if there is a proportionate, regional approach to management,” said Mr MacInnes. “However, the kind of designations and restrictions that are being talked about would be disastrous”.