THE opportunities for Scotland’s marine sector have been set out in the latest independence paper published by the Scottish Government.

As part of the Building a New Scotland series, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands, Mairi Gougeon, appeared in Dunbar to launch the paper and discuss the benefits of independence for industries and communities dependent upon Scotland’s marine environment.

The paper highlights the strength and value of the country’s seas, pointing out that Scotland has nearly two-thirds share of the UK’s current Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – the area where a sovereign state has exclusive rights to the exploitation and use of marine resources.

If Scotland were to re-join the EU as an independent nation it would have the fourth largest EEZ of all EU member states, larger than Ireland, France and Portugal.

The paper also highlights the impact Brexit has had on Scotland’s fishing industry, having lost income due to the agreement the UK Government reached with the EU.

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It states: “Rather than the net gain of £148 million by 2026 quoted by former prime minister Boris Johnson, a report produced on behalf of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations indicates that, as a result of a range of factors such as new non-tariff barriers to trade, the UK fishing industry stands to lose £64 million per year as a result of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, with total losses in excess of £300 million by 2026.”

When asked whether the fishing industry could be convinced to re-join the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in the EU, which sets quotas for member states, Gougeon said: “I can understand that there would be some apprehension because if we were an independent country looking to rejoin the EU that obviously means rejoining the CFP.

“But I think that what fishers were promised when we came out of the EU was this sea of opportunity where there would be more quota. As it transpires, that hasn’t been the case.

“There’s been paper quota which has been allocated, quota which wasn’t being fulfilled in the first place and therefore wasn’t needed. We’ve seen quota for some of our key stocks – cod, haddock, whiting and saithe – actually go down.

“It ultimately means that if Scotland rejoins the CFP, we have a role in the decision making there and we can help influence and modernise those policies.”

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When asked by The National about whether the Scottish Government’s relationship to the marine sector had changed since the scrapping of legislation which aimed to make 10% of Scotland’s seas Highly Protected Marine Areas by 2026, Gougeon said the voice of coastal communities had been heard “loud and clear”.

“There was a lot of concern about those proposals but we had never really left the drawing board when it came to Highly Protected Marine Areas. But we’re now not proceeding with that proposal.

“I think the feedback from coastal communities came through loud and clear and the First Minister has also made clear that this wasn’t something we’d be imposing on communities.

“But there’s no doubt that we have to do more to protect our marine environment. When you look at the good environmental status in 11 of 15 of our objectives, we haven’t achieved that.

“So, we have to do more but ultimately we want to work with all the affected marine sectors. We want to work with communities on what any potential proposals could look like.”

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She added that it was within everyone in the sector’s best interests to ensure good environmental health in Scotland’s waters.

It comes after the Icelandic musician Bjork released a song with Catalan pop star Rosalia denouncing the impact of open net fish farms on Iceland’s marine environment earlier on Tuesday. 

Scotland boasts the third largest salmon aquaculture industry worldwide, accounting for approximately 93% of UK plus EU Atlantic salmon production in 2021.

However, the industry can result in biodiversity loss due to the use of chemicals such as antibiotics on fish, the spread of disease and parasites to wild fish, and nutrient pollution in the surrounding waters.

The National asked Gougeon whether Scotland’s aquaculture sector would continue to grow post-independence despite the environmental impacts.

“Earlier this year I published the Vision for Sustainable Aquaculture in Scotland because it is an absolutely key sector for us.

“When you look at Scottish salmon and farmed salmon, it’s our biggest food export, it employs about 12,000 people in some of the most remote and rural parts of Scotland providing high quality and well-paid jobs.

“The sector also works to build houses in areas where that’s needed as well. It’s key to our economy.

“But we’re also clear that this isn’t about growing that sector at all costs and that’s why we published the Vision for Sustainable Aquaculture.

"We need to work with the industry, with communities and environmental organisations to make sure that it has a sustainable future in Scotland going forward.”