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An extra four weeks for comments has been added to a marine protection consultation, which small fishing communities fear will destroy the viability of island fisheries.

New proposals for highly protected marine areas (HPMAs) have been put forward by both the Scottish Government and UK Government, suggesting that they would be the way to protect species diversity and the health of the oceans.

But a consultation due to close on Monday (20 March) has generated such strong passions that the deadline for comments has been extended to 17 April.

Tiree is the latest island to raise its collective voice in protest at government proposals which could, they say, wipe out their community in one stroke of a pen.

The Scottish Government says their vision is for clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse seas, managed to meet the long term needs of nature and people. 

Scottish Ministers have committed to designate at least 10% of Scotland’s seas as HPMAs by 2026, placing strict limits on human activities such as fishing and aquaculture, while allowing non-damaging recreational activities to take place at carefully managed levels.

That means, according to Sgirè an Rubha councillor Norrie ‘Tomsh’ Macdonald, that windsurfing, swimming and snorkelling will be allowed within HPMAs, but fishing communities will be blocked from fishing for cuddies off the rocks, hand-diving scallops, lifting creels and landing their quota of fish.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar expressed unanimous opposition and anger about the ‘devastating consequences’ that could be expected from the proposals, when their primary industries working group met on 8 March.

And yesterday (Tuesday 14 March) Tiree Community Council and Tiree Community Development Trust joined together to issue a statement highlighting their ‘grave concerns.’

They said: “It is not an exaggeration to say that the designation of the waters used by the Tiree fishing fleet – from Skerryvore to the Cairns of Coll – as a Highly Protected Marine Area (HPMA) poses an existential threat to the Tiree community.”

In Tiree nine fishing vessels support 20 full-time jobs, with the annual catch of crab and lobster valued at around £1 million. One quarter of the children in Primary 4 and below at Tiree schools come from fishing families.

In yesterday’s statement, local fisherman Neil MacPhail said: “My boat alone puts food on the table for eleven people. One boat’s worth of economic impact is huge in a community such as Tiree.

“If this landed on top of us, we would be wiped out overnight with one stroke of the pen on a chart.”

Rhoda Meek, chair of the Tiree Community Development Trust said: “Our island, as a thriving community, is perilously close to being non-viable. Social capital has been hollowed out and many voluntary committees are under strength.

“The Tiree community is hanging on by its fingertips. If the Tiree fleet cannot work local waters, there will be no fishing boats, no fishermen, and no fishing families. It will be the end of our community.”

The views expressed in Tiree echo those of Harris fishermen like Donald Maclennan, who works out of Leverburgh on his vessel Valhalla.

Donald posted a long and passionately-expressed comment on social media last week, saying: “The islands we live on are struggling. I am 40 this year and alarmingly, I have been around long enough now to witness depopulation first hand.

“In the industry we have poured our lot into – fishing – (we) have had some of the most consistently good periods in recent years in its history.

“Stocks are in great shape, and the Hebridean fishing industry have driven management measures to enhance sustainability of stocks. Buoyed by this, Macduff Shellfish have invested £8million in a state-of-the-art processing factory in Stornoway.

“Kallin Shellfish Ltd have seen consistently high and sustainable catches of scallops to their busy processing factory in Grimsay in recent years, all landed by a small, locally owned fleet of scallopers.

“Our own little port of Leverburgh employs around a dozen in the fishing industry, and the small fleet of creel boats contributes approximately £6-700k per year into our local economy.

“There’s 10 children under 10 years of age depend on our wee fleet to clothe them and feed them. There’s 21 in our local primary school.

“The sea surrounds us. There’s barely a village that isn’t on the coast, and for good reason. As long as people have lived here – and that’s at least 7000 years now – it’s been central to many for food, livelihood, or recreation.

“To say the sea is one of the Hebrides largest and most diverse assets, economic or otherwise, cannot be highlighted enough. I’m willing to wager that there’s not a family that doesn’t have a connection to it. It’s in the blood.

“Unfortunately, access to this important resource is soon to be under threat through the Scottish government’s HPMA proposals and as a consequence of this there is potential for any one of our island communities to be effectively banned from utilising the sea for economic or leisure purposes.

“This is no joke. Even the act of catching a solitary mackerel from a rowing boat, or anchoring your boat in an HPMA, will be considered a criminal activity. Any potential development in environmentally friendly renewable schemes, or the most passive forms of fishing, will be completely banned.

“The framework proposed by Marine Scotland is far beyond anything proposed by the rest of the UK and Ireland.

“I draw comparison to the 19th century landlords who decimated the Highlands and Islands, forcing their tenants off the land to replace them with sheep.

“Except now, and I say this with a heavy heart, the landlord is the Scottish Government and the sheep are replaced by the new religion of fundamentalist environmentalism.

“It doesn’t need to be like this, we can have a healthy and well-managed marine environment that also continues to be an important asset and resource to coastal communities, without padlocking the gates shut on us cottars.

“This is not a sensible and well researched proposal, it’s a random throw of the dice to see what happens, and it’s on us.”

Donald’s comments were welcomed by Harris councillor Grant Fulton, who said: “I’m somewhat heartened that the fishing community is reacting strongly to this and that the majority of councillors and the Comhairle are responding robustly to this.

“Whether our resistance to HPMAs makes an iota of difference to Holyrood and Marine Scotland is another thing. We are a small constituency with less than 30000 votes.

“But we haven’t finished yet. If it means us heading down to Holyrood to protest then we will have to muster the troops.”

More time has now been granted for local consultation responses. Scottish Government proposals on HPMAs are open to consultation here: and the deadline for comments has been extended to 17 April.

And there’s some cause for hope about the potential of vigorous opposition, after the UK Government dropped designation of seas around Lindisfarne in the North Sea as an HPMA.

In a policy paper on HPMAs published on 28 February, DEFRA said that Lindisfarne will not be designated due ‘to the evidence showing there was a high level of dependency in the local area on employment opportunities provided by existing activities.’

In conclusions which resonate with the situation in the Scottish islands, the paper said: “One third of Holy Island residents are employed in commercial fishing. Many residents were concerned about losing their heritage, community and cultural identity through losing fishing.

“The geographical isolation of a large number of this site’s stakeholders provides additional cost implications, including that it is difficult for them to switch jobs.

“Additionally, due to the community’s isolation and self-dependency, the potential designation raised a number of health and safety concerns, including on mental health.

“Evidence of other impacts included reduced income from tourist activities, and the likelihood of the loss of school and coastguard provision due to fishers and families moving away from the island.”

The pictures show Harris skipper Donald Maclennan with his catch and one of his young daughters, and the 11 people dependent on operation of Neil MacPhail’s boat on the island of Tiree (Tiree Community Council).