Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has written to the Minister for the Islands, Derek Mackay MSP, to urge him to help find a workable way forward for the management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) which will be in the interests of the communities of the islands.
The current proposals, which are strongly opposed by the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association and other local bodies, have been the subject of many representations from constituents to Mr MacNeil’s office.
He is now calling on the Scottish Government to carry out an Economic Impact Assessment of the possible effects on the local fishing industry and ancillary sectors including onshore processing.
Mr MacNeil said: “I have written to Derek Mackay, Minister for Transport and the Islands, to ask for his assistance in this matter. The Fishermen’s Association have suggested alternative management arrangements and I have asked the Minister for his support in protecting the fishing industry which is an important sector to the economy of the islands.
“The fishing industry have followed sustainable practices for decades and have shown willingness to take further measures to protect the marine environment. In fact, I am told, areas such as Broadbay in Lewis which was once an abundant diverse fishing area is, since being closed, almost a monoculture of starfish. The environment that some think they are protecting is a function of all the activities and species in the area, humans on boats included.
“I am aware of people not investing in boats because they will lose 30% of the winter fishing area. We need an Economic Impact Assessment of these allegedly environmental proposals, this is something the Islands Minister could assist with.”
In the letter, Mr MacNeil states: “As Minister for the Islands, I would ask for your support for this vital sector of Na h-Eileanan an Iar’s economy where more than 680 people are directly employed in fishing and several hundred more in ancillary and onshore processing industries.”
He also referred to the recent announcement by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon regarding plans for more autonomy for island communities and the devolution of decision-making to allow island communities to grow stronger and to flourish.
“I am of the opinion that taking account of the concerns of this important industry are in line with this thinking and are compatible with the aspirations of the forthcoming Community Empowerment Bill and the Islands Bill,” he stated in the letter.