The Scottish Government is facing calls to scrap its controversial plans for Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs).

The proposals to restrict fishing and other human activities in some coastal areas are designed to protect wildlife and the environment.

But members of the fishing industry, Highland and island communities and even some SNP MSPs have raised concerns about the scheme.

MSPs voted to reconsider the scheme in Holyrood on Wednesday by 62 votes to 53 and two abstentions.

As part of the Bute House Agreement - which brought the Scottish Greens into government in a historic power-sharing deal with the SNP - Holyrood ministers committed to designate at least 10% of Scotland's seas as HPMAs by 2026.

The BBC says this means that all forms of fishing including recreational catch-and-release angling would be prohibited in selected sites.

Proposal to ban seaweed harvesting

Seaweed harvesting would also be banned, no new marine renewable-energy schemes would be allowed and the laying of subsea cables would be restricted.

Managed levels of swimming, snorkelling and windsurfing would be allowed.

A consultation on the scheme closed last month, with a further consultation on proposed sites likely to take place in 2025.

About 37% of Scotland's seas are already included in Scotland's Marine Protected Areas network.

These areas are managed for the long-term conservation of marine resources, ecosystems services, or cultural heritage.

The Scottish Fishermen's Federation (SFF), which represents the country's fishermen's associations, has warned HPMAs could have a "catastrophic impact" on the industry.

'Politically driven' scheme

Chief executive Elspeth Macdonald said the scheme "is politically driven rather than based on robust policy analysis".

She added: "The impact on other marine users is potentially immense, and government hasn't yet been able to set out how it will assess the displacement of marine activities including fishing into other areas, or the environmental or socio-economic impacts."

The organisation has urged Holyrood ministers to follow England's lead and launch a pilot scheme in some marine areas so the impact of HPMAs can be analysed.

Salmon Scotland, which represents salmon farms, warned HPMAs could leads to "significant job losses in some of our most fragile coastal communities".

Western Isles local authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has voiced opposition, as has Highland Council.

Former SNP leadership candidate Kate Forbes told the BBC that HPMAs could be "hugely devastating" for communities.

Depopulation fear

The Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP said the scheme could lead to further depopulation in the Highlands and islands, warning people - not wildlife - could become the "endangered species".

SNP MSP Fergus Ewing and party colleague Karen Adam have also criticised the scheme.

Speaking in the chamber on Wednesday, SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar Alasdair Allan said: "I have never had to confront anything quite like the issue of HPMAs before.

"A policy to which, to the best of my recollection, literally every single person of the many in my island community who have offered me a view is strongly opposed."

Mr Allan, Ms Forbes and Mr Ewing all voted against a Scottish Government amendment which recognises that HPMAs will not be imposed on communities which are "vehemently" opposed to them.

The Scottish Conservatives had pledged to pilot the introduction of HPMAs in their 2021 manifesto.


However, they urged rebel SNP MSPs to back their call for the implementation and timeframe of the plan to be reconsidered in the vote. Tory rural economy spokesperson Rachael Hamilton said: "Even backbench SNP MSPs have recognised the damage that Humza Yousaf's HPMA proposals would do to coastal communities right across Scotland.

"The SNP-Green Government must listen to the opposition across the Scottish Parliament and from Scotland's fishermen and scrap its plans to ban fishing in large parts of Scottish waters."

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