Plans to deliver increased protection for Scotland’s marine environment will be revised, with a new pathway and timetable, Net Zero Secretary Mairi McAllan has confirmed.
Addressing the Scottish Parliament, the Cabinet Secretary said proposals consulted on to implement Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) across 10% of Scotland’s seas by 2026 will not be progressed.
Instead, the Scottish Government will take more time to work with industry, communities and conservation organisations to enhance marine protection, while supporting any groups that wish to pursue community-led marine protection in their local area on a quicker timescale, such as those initiatives in Lamlash Bay on Arran and St Abbs & Eyemouth in Berwickshire.
It follows a public consultation which ran earlier in the year on the principles of HPMA policy in Scotland and attracted thousands of responses.
Ms McAllan said:
“We are in the midst of a nature and climate crisis and we must be prepared to take action commensurate with the scale of that challenge.
“Failure to safeguard and improve the resilience of Scotland’s marine ecosystems to a changing climate risks the very basis on which our marine industries and coastal communities are built.
“We chose to consult as early and widely as possible on the principles of HPMAs, with no pre-determined sites. It has always been, and continues to be, this government’s plan to work cooperatively with communities to identify how and where to enhance marine protection in a way that minimises impact and maximises opportunity.
“Therefore, while we remain firmly committed to the outcome of enhanced marine protection, the proposal as consulted on will not be progressed.
“I will outline more on our next steps after the summer recess, but I hope that it is clear that I am determined to protect our oceans in a way that is fair, and to find a way forward that ensures our seas remain a source of prosperity for the nation, especially in our remote, coastal and island communities.”
In the statement to Parliament, the Cabinet Secretary also confirmed that an ongoing programme of work to implement fisheries management measures in existing MPAs where they are yet to be introduced, and to protect some of the most vulnerable Priority Marine Features outside of MPAs, will be taken forward as a priority.
A full response to the consultation and the next steps will be published after summer recess.
The existing Marine Protected Area network covers approximately 37% of Scotland’s seas. The EU’s biodiversity strategy sets the target that, by 2030, at least 30% of EU seas should be protected - with 10% to be strictly protected.
The latest assessment under the UK Marine Strategy indicated that overall the UK failed to achieve 11 out of 15 descriptors of Good Environmental Status in its seas.
Evidence presented in Scotland’s 2020 Marine Assessment shows nine out of 21 marine regions in Scotland have seafloor habitats which are predicted to be in ‘poor condition’ across more than half of their area.
More information about the Scottish Government's policies on the marine environment are available online.
The Regional Inshore Fisheries Groups (RIFGs) aim to improve the management of inshore fisheries in the 0-6 nautical mile zone of Scottish waters, and to give commercial inshore fishermen a strong voice in wider marine management developments.