Comhairle and fishermen to battle ‘devastating’ marine policy

Fishing boats at Stornoway harbour and inset MPA existing and proposed areas.
Fishing boats at Stornoway harbour and inset MPA existing and proposed areas.

The Comhairle and fishing groups are opposing plans for marine restrictions around the Islands, arguing it will harm fishing communities.

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are regions of sea under restrictions, including a clamp-down on fishing. They were introduced after Westminster said action was needed to protect biodiversity.

The Scottish Government has decided to further enforce the policy, including in the Western isles, saying environmental protection is a must.

The Comhairle Fisheries Group, and fishing organisations working alongside the council, have met to oppose the plans, with their chairman saying the policy would have a ‘devastating impact on the fishing industry and communities of the Outer Hebrides’.

The Western Isles Fisherman’s Association isn’t convinced either, echoing similar concerns over harm to ‘fragile communities, resulting in job losses, with no alternative employment available for those made redundant.’

Hector Stewart, director of Kallin Shellfish, says his company is totally opposed to the introduction of protected areas:

“Sixty percent of Kallin Shellfish’s workforce are young people from Latvia and Poland, many have been with the company over a decade”, says Mr Stewart, who adds that these workers’ children have become “an integral part of the community”.

He added that the firm’s workers don’t understand ‘why a sustainable scallop fishery must close’.

Stewart continued:“This has already set doubts in their mind as to the viability of these workers decision to reside in North Uist, buy houses and set down roots in the Western Isles.”

Thirty MPAs were designated under the UK marine law, 17 of them are in Scottish waters.

The Scottish Government says it has support from Scottish National Heritage (SNH) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) in its decision over marine areas.

Sensitive habitats

Holyrood argues that the restricted sites have sensitive habitats and species that are in need of protection.

A Holyrood spokesperson told The Gazette: “We must protect our marine environment.

“Failure to protect these areas would mean permanent damage to habitats and fish stocks – that is the real risk for coastal communities.

“Fishermen from the Western Isles can still operate elsewhere. A balance must be struck to protect our environment and the communities that depend on it.

“The proposals were widely welcomed by many organisations, including creel fishermen.

“We are considering representations from stakeholders. The way forward will be announced after this consideration.”

Representatives from the fishing community will meet Richard Lochead, Secretary for Rural Affairs, the week beginning September 14.