MORE than 130 organisations have expressed concern that environmental problems in Scotland’s waters are “being erased or delayed” by the Scottish Government despite increased conservation measures enjoying broad public support.

Our Seas – a coalition of community, fishing, recreational and environmental groups – claimed that First Minister Humza Yousaf’s Programme for Government signalled a backward step in environmental action.

A national poll commissioned by Our Seas and conducted by Survation found that 69% of respondents in Scotland were concerned about the impacts of fishing on the marine environment.

Indeed, the proportion of those concerned was even higher in a telephone poll of coastal towns and villages including Kirkcudbright, Oban, Fraserburgh, Troon, Campbeltown, Wick and Ullapool.

A majority of respondents supported restrictions inside coastal and protected areas from the most damaging methods of fishing, such as scallop dredging bottom-trawling.

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But Our Seas said that commitments from the SNP-Green government to introduce further management measures inside Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and restrict bottom-trawling and scallop dredging were either disappearing or significantly delayed.

The deadline to implement these measures by March 2024 has now been pushed back to 2025 and there was no detail about a promised consultation on capping fishing activity in inshore waters in the Programme for Government.

Hayley Wolcott, coordinator of the Our Seas coalition, said: “This polling suggests that the majority of people within coastal communities want to see more protection of our marine environment from the most harmful methods of fishing, not another decade of inaction.

“This is a delay on top of a delay. Scotland’s environment is not an optional extra, as the government’s own marine assessment warns. Measures identified as necessary by our country’s best marine scientists are being erased or delayed by Ministers, despite the presence of the Scottish Green Party within the Scottish Government.

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“The Scottish Government claims that 37% of our marine area is protected, but the sad reality is many of these protections mean nothing in practice. Only 5% of Scotland’s inshore seabed is protected from scallop dredging and bottom trawling.

“There is overwhelming evidence that coastal fish nursery and spawning grounds are damaged by these bottom towed fishing gears, and that this has directly contributed to a decline in marine life and the historical collapse of many fish populations.”

More than 60% of respondents to the poll felt that scallop dredging and bottom-trawling should not be allowed to continue within MPAs.

It comes after the Scottish Government’s commitment to making 10% of Scotland’s waters Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) by 2026 was dropped after opposition to the plans from fishing businesses and some coastal communities.

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The vast majority of human activities would not have been permitted within HPMAs, including fishing, aquaculture, oil and gas exploration and offshore wind.

However, conservationists are concerned that since the legislation was dropped there is little appetite for bold action in the Scottish Government David Nairn of the Fairlie Coastal Trust said: “One of the biggest threats to our marine environment is the failure of Ministers to protect it, through endless consultations and virtue signalling without follow through.

“The Scottish Government cannot claim to be an international leader in sustainable fisheries management whilst approving these avoidable delays to marine protection.

“Unless the Scottish Government takes action, future generations will look back at this decade as a chronic failure of leadership.”