Patrols deployed over marine protection area 'incursion' claims

FPV Minna Image copyright Thomas Nugent
Image caption The Marine Protection Vessel Minna operates mainly on Scotland's inshore waters

Fast patrol craft have been deployed to investigate reports of fishing boats operating illegally in marine protected areas, BBC Scotland has learned.

The Scottish government's introduction of marine protected areas (MPAs) has proved controversial and divisive.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said there had been "reports of alleged incursions" into MPAs.

Fishermen's leaders said crews did not agree with the MPA regulations but insisted they were respecting them.

Skippers have warned the new restrictions on fishing are putting west coast fishing communities at risk.

Crews are being backed by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, which has claimed there is a danger of "modern day clearances" as a result of the protection zones.

MPAs are designed to protect Scotland's internationally important marine ecosystem, allowing damaged areas of seabed to recover.

'No vigilante action'

Fishermen's leaders say their fears have been ignored, but insist crews are respecting the MPA regulations.

Elaine Whyte of the Clyde Fishermen's Association said: "I would stress that as much as they don't agree with them, they are respecting them.

"They are not taking vigilante action and breaching the areas.

"They are tying up and taking losses, not fishing MPAs."

Image caption The Marine Protected Areas are designed to safeguard fragile habitats and biodiversity

Bertie Armstrong of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation (SFF) said there was "considerable unhappiness" about the new rules, but said there was "quite simply no campaign of disobedience".

He said protests against the MPAs were being conducted at a political level and were "exclusively peaceful".

He added: "The SFF has participated fully in the MPA process and you will find no more conscientious stewards of the marine environment than those making their living from it.

"The difficulties with a small number of new MPAs has been created by the decisions made by the fisheries minister which overreached the evidence and advice from his own process, to the detriment of perfectly sustainable fishing carried out from delicately balanced communities."

'Illegal activity'

Mr Lochhead told BBC Scotland: "Marine Scotland Compliance has received reports of alleged incursions into Marine Protected Areas.

"They have deployed enforcement officers, Marine Protection Vessels, and fast patrol craft to investigate these incidents and to deter and detect any illegal activity in MPAs."

Image caption Demonstrations were held outside Holyrood ahead of a debate on MPAs

Meanwhile, creel fishermen in support of the measures have told BBC Scotland they have been the victims of intimidation by the crews of larger vessels.

Loch Fyne in Argyll is said to be a particular flashpoint.

Police Scotland has confirmed an investigation is under way following allegations of intimidation there.

'Irresponsible flouting'

Richard Luxmoore of the National Trust for Scotland and Scottish Environment Link said: "The majority of skippers understand that MPAs are in the best interests of local communities, the environment and their industry.

"Unfortunately irresponsible flouting of the regulations by a tiny minority could risk undermining all of these.

"Working with other environmental groups we would urge the fishing industry to stamp out any illegal fishing and encourage members of the public to report suspicious activity to Marine Scotland Compliance."

Marine Scotland Compliance has three ships in its fleet of Marine Protection Vessels.

The MPV Minna operates mainly in Scotland's inshore waters. The vessel is 42m in length, has a crew of 15, and a top speed of 14 knots.

Two other vessels, the MPV Jura and the MPV Hirta, are larger and faster and are used mainly in offshore enforcement duties.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Loch Fyne is said to be a particular flashpoint between crews

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