SCOTTISH Labour have called on the Government to scrap its plans for Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) – despite including a more ambitious plan for HPMAs in its own manifesto.

Plans for HPMAs – described as “ocean recovery zones” by the Marine Conservation Society – would see 10% of Scotland’s waters largely protected from human impact in a move to restore biodiversity in the country’s marine environment.

Practices such as fishing and aquaculture would not be permitted within the areas, although the specific sites are yet to be announced.

But speaking in Holyrood, Labour MSP Rhoda Grant asked Minister for Biodiversity Lorna Slater if the government would be dropping the plans after hearing criticism from some coastal communities and businesses, who fear the policy will impact their livelihoods and result in depopulation. 

She said: “Given the strength of feeling around HPMAs, will the minister listen to the consultation and withdraw these proposals or does she see them as a red line within the Bute House Agreement?”

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Slater responded by stating that the government would listen to all those who responded to the consultation, which closed on April 17.

“The consultation has only just closed,” she said. “It includes a very wide range of views which we will now consider and assess.

“Of course, it is important to create the right balance in our marine space.

“We recognise the importance of continued investment in Scotland’s seafood and wider marine sectors as well as balancing the needs for eco-marine protection and for renewable energy.”

However, Scottish Labour’s 2021 election manifesto – the National Recovery Plan – made an explicit commitment to creating “highly protected” marine zones.

Indeed, Labour’s proposals appear even more ambitious than the plans currently being proposed by the Scottish Government.

The manifesto states: “Scottish Labour supports an ambitious Environment Act that includes legally binding targets for nature’s recovery, together with proper funding and a Nature Network for Scotland through the National Planning Framework.

“We will also support a plan for ocean recovery with at least one tenth of Scotland’s Seas fully protected, and a further 20% highly protected, from destructive and extractive activities by 2030.”

Grant, who is her party's rural affairs spokesperson, told The National: “It is essential that fishing is sustainable and our marine environment is protected – however the current HPMA proposals would be a hammer blow to coastal communities. 

“The SNP-Green government must listen to these stark warnings and go back to the drawing board on their damaging plans. 

“We need to empower local communities to deliver management schemes in line with local needs so we can secure a sustainable future for Scottish fishing.”

It comes as Mairi McAllan – the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Just Transition – promised to tour coastal and island communities in the coming months to “hear directly” from those who could be affected by the proposed legislation.