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Fishing industry warns of ‘frightening’ future due to reduced access to waters

A report warns more than half of fishing waters could be off-limits to the Scottish fleet by 2050 (PA)
A report warns more than half of fishing waters could be off-limits to the Scottish fleet by 2050 (PA)

Fishing leaders have warned the outlook for the industry is “truly frightening” as a new report revealed more than half of all fishing grounds could be lost to the fleet by 2050.

The worst-case scenario outlined in the Spatial Squeeze in Fisheries report suggests 56% of Scottish waters could be closed to fishing boats.

The report, produced for the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) and the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, warns increasing offshore renewable energy projects – such as wind and tidal power schemes – is impacting on where boats can fish.

An expansion of marine protected areas will also impact on fishing waters, the report adds.

It said the “competition for marine space needs to be carefully managed” to ensure new industries, such as green energy, can exist alongside the traditional fishing sector.

Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the SFF, said as it stands, “offshore renewable energy generation and marine conservation are being prioritised over fishing”.

Even if the worst-case scenario is not realised, the report said 46% of Scottish waters could be off limits to fishermen by 2050.

Ms Macdonald said: “The outlook ahead is truly frightening.

“The report shows that expansion of both offshore renewable energy generation and marine conservation are being prioritised over fishing, despite fishing’s value in producing low-carbon, healthy and sustainable food, contributing to our food security and supporting thousands of jobs in our coastal communities.

“The industry’s voice and interests are being downplayed by government when it comes to overall strategy for marine planning, and in relation to individual planning decisions.

“No-one disputes the need for renewables to help in the battle against climate change, however the scale of development proposed offshore risks putting an already climate-smart industry to the sword.”

Ms Macdonald said both the UK and Scottish governments need to recognise the importance of the fishing sector for “food production and livelihoods” and should therefore work to “effectively integrate our industry into the marine spatial planning and decision-making systems”.

She added: “Fishing industry representatives need to be given a stronger and more effective voice in the planning process, at both strategic plan and project level, to ensure that the potential impact on the fleet of proposed developments and conservation zones are adequately expressed and considered so that impacts can be avoided or minimised.

“There must be real, meaningful consultation, not just lip service.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We fully understand the need to balance the growth of the offshore renewables sector and protection for the marine environment with continued investment in Scotland’s seafood and wider marine sectors and the communities and jobs which rely on them.

“That is why we will carefully consider this report.

“Our recently published Blue Economy Vision sets our ambition for balancing the competing pressures on the marine environment. In this vision we made clear that Scotland’s seas and waters have a key role to play in contributing to the nation’s future economic prosperity, especially in remote, rural and island communities – and that a healthy marine environment is essential to supporting this ambition.

“As we progress plans to develop Scotland’s offshore wind sector and increase protection for our marine environment, we are engaging closely with the fishing industry. For example, the sector was extensively involved in helping to identify suitable sites for offshore wind development.

“Scottish ministers have been clear that a just transition must be at the heart of Scotland’s journey to net zero. This means that as we reduce our emissions and respond to a changing climate, our journey is fair and creates a better future for everyone – regardless of where they live, what they do, and who they are.

“Becoming net zero by 2045 will transform all sectors of our economy and society. But with careful planning and close working with communities, business, industry, we will ensure that this economic transformation is managed fairly for workers in existing industries.”

A UK government spokesperson said: “We are working with the fishing industry to identify opportunities for co-location and space sharing with the offshore wind industry and will continue to gather evidence to ensure the marine environment meets the needs of everyone who depends on it, now and in the future.”

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