After millennia of social and economic life in the Islands since the end of the last Ice Age, it's all going to be ended by the Scottish Government.
That was, effectively, the conclusion of councillors and officials yesterday (Wednesday) when they looked at the potentially catastrophic impact of the Scottish Government’s proposals around Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMA).
The political and economic darkness loomed as Comhairle nan Eilean Siar members and officers met with fisheries representatives from the catching and processing sectors to gauge industry views.
There was unanimous opposition on the Comhairle’s Primary Industries Working Group and very real anger regarding the Scottish Government’s HPMA proposals.
The view of the meeting was that the Comhairle should strenuously and vigorously reject and oppose any HPMA proposal in the Outer Hebrides and on the west coast of Scotland.
Speaking after the meeting, the Chairman of the Working Group, Councillor Norman MacDonald said: “I have seldom attended a meeting where the frustration and anger of Comhairle Elected Members and industry representatives was so palpable.
"These HPMA proposals, if they proceed, will be devastating to the economy of the Outer Hebrides. HPMA’s will decimate the fisheries sector, will devastate some of our most peripheral communities and will lead to further depopulation from our islands.
"There appears to be a total disconnect between remote urban policy makers in Edinburgh and real people leading real lives in communities across the Outer Hebrides.
"It is clear, that Edinburgh-based Government Ministers and policy makers have no understanding of the devastating consequences these disgraceful HPMA proposals will have on the economy and community of the Outer Hebrides if they come to fruition.
"Even worse they do not seem to care.”
Mr MacDonald continued: “The Comhairle will now be responding robustly to these proposals, and we will be writing to Mairi McAllan MSP, Minister for Environment and Land Reform to intimate our implacable opposition and seeking assurance that HPMA’s will never be introduced in the Outer Hebrides.
"It is increasingly clear, that to protect our fishing industry and the jobs in that industry that the community of the Outer Hebrides must take control of our own fisheries.
"We need to remove the threat of HPMA’s and open discussions with Government around devolution of control of our fisheries.
"I would call on individuals and organisations across the Outer Hebrides to let the Scottish Government know their views on these destructive and disproportionate proposals."
If HPMA’s were to proceed the following activities would be banned:
- Commercial fishing (of any kind including hand-diving);
- Recreational fishing (of any kind);
- Finfish aquaculture – no new sites and relocation of sites within or which may affect HPMAs;
- Shellfish aquaculture – no new sites and relocation of sites within or which may affect HPMAs;
- Seaweed harvesting;
- Oil and gas sector development – should be avoided in HPMAs;
- Renewable energy development – no new developments in HPMAs;
- Carbon capture, utilisation and storage – no new developments, repurposing of existing infrastructure possible on case-by-case basis;
- Subsea cables – construction of new subsea cables restricted with the exception of new cables in relation to lifeline services to remote and island communities;
- Aggregate extraction;
- Ports and harbours – HPMAs not designated in areas of existing ports/harbours, no new harbour development in designated HPMAs;
- Military and defence – HPMAs not designated in military activity areas;
- Hydrogen production – no infrastructure development in HPMAs;
- Space Ports – no marine infrastructure development or deposition of launch debris in HPMAs.
It is intended that the transit of ships and ferries is allowed and will not be restricted in HPMAs, the Scottish Government plan says.
While many livelihoods will be obliterated, there is the positive note that windsurfing, swimming and snorkelling will be allowed within HPMAs at carefully managed levels.