By Kenneth Gibson, MSP for Cunninghame North
Many Arranachs are rightly proud of the fact that Scotland’s first ever marine “No-Take Zone” was established in Lamlash Bay back in 2008.
It was a hard-fought victory which would not have been possible without the successful campaigning work of the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST), convincing local fishers of the projects’ benefits, many of whom were initially worried about losing a fishing ground.
In the years since, the zone, which covers 2.67 square km, has proven to be a huge success and a 2020 University of York report showed a substantial increase in biodiversity as a result.
In fact, the area is now a nursery for juvenile fish, particularly cod, while lobsters and scallops in the zone produce six times more eggs than those outside it, thus allowing stocks of fish and shellfish in the waters around the zone to replenish.
More important, however, is the significant impact Lamlash Bay No Take Zone and COAST have had on how marine protection is perceived in Scotland more broadly.
The University of York report stated that the detailed research conducted in Lamlash “has created a case study that clearly demonstrates the benefits of protection in an area where little such evidence is available.”
In the years since, several organisations including COAST and Marine Concern have successfully campaigned for increased marine protection on a national level.
I, for my part, have continued to raise the matter with Scottish Ministers and in December 2020, led my own debate in the Scottish Parliament, calling on the Scottish Government to consider the establishment of new No Take Zones in other marine areas at risk of human overexploitation.
I was therefore glad to read that in the Programme for Government, announced on 06 September by the First Minister, the Scottish Government committed to introduce Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) covering at least 10% of our waters by 2026.
Fishing will not be permitted within HPMAs, and I have had confirmation from the Minister for Environment, Màiri McAllan MSP, that these sites will go further than existing no-take-zones by providing protection from a range of other activities including aquaculture and infrastructure developments, while allowing low impact activities at non-damaging levels.
The Scottish Government’s commitment to designate and protect at least 10% of Scotland’s seas as HPMAs by 2026 marks a step change in the protection of our marine environment.
It also aligns with the European Union target for strictly protected areas by 2030 and achieves this on a shortened timescale, as we await the publication of the policy framework for HPMAs, which will be consulted on later this year.
This massive progress shows what can be done when local activists successfully campaign for positive change and inspire others across the country to follow suit.
It has been amazing to see the development from the first No-Take Zone being established in Arran 14 years ago, to a similar model becoming Scottish Government policy in 2022.
I will continue to raise the issue of marine protection in the Scottish Parliament while at the same time ensuring that marine industries, on which many coastal communities rely, are allowed to thrive.