Scottish Government withdraws from the selection of HPMAs

Marine Environmental Protection - Future Prospects?

The withdrawal by Scottish Government of a potential scheme to create Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) is acknowledged by the shellfish cultivation industry. Given the inflexibility of the proposals and the lack of substantive support from a range of stakeholders, it is hoped that marine environmental protection will in the future be delivered through more appropriate management initiatives.

Shellfish farming supports a range of family enterprises throughout the more rural and remote Scottish coastline. The entirely sustainable production of shellfish is wholly reliant on a healthy and productive marine environment. Cultivation of the indigenous blue mussel predominates in the inshore waters of the Shetland Isles together with operations in the Western Isles and the Highlands. Oyster sites are present on foreshores around the Scottish coastline, with the Native oyster re-introduced through cultivation in a number of locations. This rural production industry creates a wider economic benefit for Scotland.

The positive environmental impact of shellfish farming has previously been recognised by the Scottish Government through the statutory designation at key locations of Shellfish Water Protected Areas (SWPAs). These seek to ensure that the water quality within such zones meets the highest environmental standards.

In consulting on the concept of HPMA implementation, the Scottish Government sought views on the feasibility to remove all significant man-made pressures from 10% of coastal waters. This is clearly not feasible in an environment without physical boundaries and subject to a range of economic activities supporting coastal communities. 

Shellfish growers have longed campaigned to maintain the pristine water quality which supports the unique Scottish marine ecosystem. Shellfish production is wholly dependent on a healthy natural environment to deliver both wild seed resources and natural feed supplies in the form of phytoplankton (micro algal plant life). In return cultivation activities are known to increase natural biodiversity within the vicinity of sites and through preventing physical disturbance, deliver protection of fragile species such as the Native oyster.

The reliance on solely natural processes means that shellfish production can be vulnerable to man-made pressures altering the balance of the marine ecosystem. Any intent by Scottish Government to reduce such pressures is welcomed where initiatives are based on effective management of any such harmful activities.   

The ASSG considers that the protection of the marine environment from all harmful pressures should be at the fore front of the Scottish Government thinking. Shellfish are some of the lowest carbon footprint foods of highest nutritional quality and are abundant around the coast. Successful cultivation activities act as a marine “canary in a coal mine” to detect any pressures or pending problems associated with the functioning of the natural ecosystem. 

Cultivation of shellfish should be encouraged through effective implementation and expansion of the Shellfish Water Protected Areas designations around the Scottish coastline. Together with specific management interventions for damaging activities, this would serve to enhance marine environmental protection and species biodiversity - for the benefit of all.


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