Highlands & Islands

More consultation on three Marine Protected Areas

Loch Sunart Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption One of the MPAs involved covers Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura

Further consultations are to be held into three of the largest of the Scottish government's planned marine protected areas (MPAs).

The three designations involved cover the Small Isles, Wester Ross and Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura.

They form part of a proposed network of 30 protected areas.

The decision to consult again follows feedback from the fishing industry and changes to the MPAs' boundaries, the government said.

The aim of MPAs is to improve marine conservation, including giving greater protection for kelp and rocky reefs, beds of sea grass and maerl seaweed. The areas have been designated but the limits on what types of fishing can be done in them have still to be introduced.

The planned MPA network has support from conservation charities and elements of the fishing industry, including creel fishermen.

'Expressed concern'

However, some fishermen and communities in the west of Scotland and Western Isles have concerns about their effect on fishing.

Communities in the Western Isles have also now told the islands' SNP MP Angus MacNeil that the consultations need to be extended beyond their 17 January deadline to give them more time to respond.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The introduction of MPAs has caused divisions in the fishing industry

Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead said: "We need to take decisive action to conserve our precious and valuable marine environment and biodiversity.

"Our MPAs are widely supported, and will protect important seabed features, such as maerl beds which provide habitat for scallops, and species such as horse mussels which improve our water quality."

He added: "We have received a range of different views on our proposals from communities, stakeholders, and the fishing industry - including many in the static sector who support our proposals whilst others have expressed concern.

"As a result, I have made changes where I can to reduce any potential economic impact while still protecting the integrity of our initial proposals and desire to protect and conserve the marine environment for future generations."

Mr MacNeil said he had received "almost instantaneous reaction of dismay" to the latest announcement on MPAs.

He said: "This whole marine protected area issue is being done in way I feel will be economically damaging for the islands and west coast.

"However, setting that aside, a month consultation over Christmas is too short and should be extended.

"Too many jobs and livelihoods of people we all know in our communities are dependent on this whole thing being done properly, therefore at outset the consultation cannot rushed."

Healthier seas

Scottish Environment Link, whose members include conservation charities such as RSPB Scotland and Marine Conservation Society, said it was pleased the government remained committed to MPAs.

Calum Duncan, convener of the group's marine taskforce, said: "We welcome the proposals as the first step toward protecting many important areas, enabling ecological recovery and helping to secure healthier Scottish seas for future generations, although concerns remain about some places where bottom-towed fishing will still be permitted.

"These nature conservation measures must also be part of a broader and more progressive approach to spatial management of fisheries throughout our seas.

"We now need to continue working with all stakeholders to ensure MPAs fulfil their promise of recovering Scotland's sea life, both for its intrinsic value and for broader public benefit."

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