The Scottish government has been facing mounting pressure to ditch its controversial proposals to restrict fishing and other human activity in “highly protected marine areas” (HPMAs). The British government already designated three such sites in England earlier this year, in a move which has been welcomed by some conservationists, but has also been met with significant pushback from members of the fishing industry who say it will wreck their livelihoods and destroy coastal communities.
The policy is a key part of the Bute House agreement, which brought the Scottish Greens into government with the SNP in 2021, and committed to designate at least 10% of Scotland’s seas as HPMAs by 2026.
And despite all of the criticism that has been levelled at the Scottish government, it has stood firm on its position, insisting that HPMAs will help alleviate the impact of climate change and biodiversity loss.
I spoke to Dr Sian Rees, a marine scientist working in conservation and policy at the University of Plymouth, and Dr Sarah Coulthard, a senior lecturer in marine social science at the University of Newcastle, about why HPMAs are so contentious. That’s right after the headlines.
Five big stories
Ukraine | The Ukrainian army has accused Russia of blowing up the Nova Kakhovka dam on the Dnieper River, and called for people living downstream to evacuate in the face of catastrophic flooding. The news comes as Ukrainian troops went on the attack at multiple points along the frontline in the Donetsk region on Monday, in what appeared to be the preliminary stages of a long-anticipated counteroffensive.
US politics | Mike Pence has declared his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination next year, pitting him against his former boss. Donald Trump’s former running mate will launch his bid for the Republican nomination with a video and event in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday – his 64th birthday.
Conservatives | The Metropolitan police have said that Conservative MP Bob Stewart has been charged with a racially aggravated public order offence after an incident outside a reception hosted by the Bahraini embassy, where he allegedly told an activist: “Go back to Bahrain.” The 73 year-old has been charged with two offences in total which are alleged to have happened in December last year.
Media | The phone of Diana, Princess of Wales was allegedly hacked by Piers Morgan’s Daily Mirror in 1997 to try to get information about her secret meetings with the comedian Michael Barrymore, the high court has heard.
Labour | The UK’s most senior climate adviser has strongly endorsed Labour’s vow to stop new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, and slammed the government for failing to show leadership on the issue. News of the support comes as Keir Starmer attempts to calm a growing rift with the GMB union over Labour’s energy policy, even as GMB’s leader, Gary Smith, continued his attack on the party’s plan.
In depth: ‘Fishers have to be seen as part of the solution, not part of the problem’
Some 37% of Scotland’s seas are already designated as marine protected areas. But these have been criticised for not going far enough to protect marine life and habitats. Hence the drive to create HPMAs. Highly protected marine areas are a bit like a control sites in a science experiment, Dr Sian Rees says. All damaging human activity is removed from HPMAs, meaning that researchers can monitor the areas closely and see how nature recovers when it is left completely undisturbed.
And it is not just about protecting wildlife and the environment: “Generally, the point is to understand how nature recovers in the HPMAs so we can then consider how nature can be restored at a greater scale across the Marine Protected Areas network in order to secure all those benefits that nature provides, including benefits for fisheries and fishing communities,” Rees explains. But while this sounds relatively reasonable, fishing communities have been highly critical of this scheme, claiming that the policy could have a “catastrophic” impact on the fishing industry.
Why are the plans so controversial?
For most of human history, marine spaces have been available for people to use as they so wish. But, says Rees, “what we’ve seen over time is that certain activities have damaged marine ecosystems and we have to somehow think about how we might reverse those trends”. HPMAs are one of those ways.
But any policy that potentially restricts or bans fishing is going to be a hard sell: “From the fishers’ perspective, fishing is more than a job, it’s a way of life. That is a common expression in fishing communities,” says Dr Sara Coulthard. “[This policy] is asking people to make considerable changes to their lives, and it won’t just affect those who are actively fishing but it will also impact their families and the whole wider network of people involved in fishing.”
Coulthard also notes that it is not just fishers and the government who cannot agree about the best way forward on this issue. There is also a lack of consensus among academics who specialise in this area.
Some value completely removing humans from the ecosystem, which is what would happen with a HPMA, in order to restore and conserve. Another school of thought leans more towards a system which allows for the sustainable use of ecosystems.
This distinction is reflected in some of the outcry that has been reported from fishing communities, many of whom argue that they are already committed to sustainable fishing, so that they can depend on it for years to come. “That’s not to say that all fishing is sustainable, but many in the smaller-scale fishing sector who work in inshore waters – where many of the HPMAs may be situated because of the high biodiversity value of those areas – feel very strongly about delivering sustainable fisheries,” Coulthard says. “So when you try to remove them from the picture entirely, they feel understandably aggrieved about that.” One fisher told Coulthard: “We used to be perceived by the public as providers of food. But now, the public just sees us as destroyers of the sea.”
What are the benefits of HPMAs?
While fishing can be sustainable in some circumstances, reports show that there has been a marked decline of marine habitats because of damage from fishing gear, anchoring, overfishing and engineering works. It has been argued that existing conservation efforts are simply not effective enough to combat this damage. HPMAs, on the other hand, are good for cultivating biodiversity and can even deliver benefits for fisheries in the medium to long term.
Rees says that it’s important to consider this policy within the wider context of all the uses of marine spaces. “Fishing is an important livelihood in UK waters, but the fishing sector is not the only beneficiary of healthy marine ecosystems. Marine ecosystems function for everyone on the planet, so any decision has to keep that wider public benefit in mind.”
A way forward
It is becoming increasingly evident that the only way to move this discussion on without alienating a significant group of people is to invest resources “in enabling fishers to become co-designers in a meaningful engagement process,” Coulthard says. “Fishing communities have to be seen as part of the solution, rather than as part of the problem.”
Without this mutual understanding and respect – both for fishing as a way of life, and for the marine areas that need conservation and restoration – policies could end up doing more harm than good. Coulthard emphasises that for any conservation policy to have legitimacy there needs to be a sense of fairness. “That has been so important to all of the fishers I’ve ever interviewed,” she says.
The one clear, positive part of all of this is that – ultimately – the government, the fisheries and the conservation groups all want the same thing: a sustainable fishery and healthy oceans. For that to happen there needs to be a realistic understanding and acceptance of the fact that fishing will have to be restricted in some areas, at least for a certain period of time. A strong engagement process could make it a lot easier for fishers to accept this. “They might not always agree with it, but they might be able to live with it as long as they can feel that they’ve been involved in a fair and transparent process,” Coulthard says. “That will go a long way to getting the buy-in that’s needed.”
What else we’ve been reading
“Without us the system would collapse,” writes Denise Wilkins on the unpaid carers like her who prop up Britain’s ailing social care system. It’s therefore “galling”, she writes, when politicians such as Jeremy Hunt “talk about getting people back to work while doing nothing to address this issue”. Charlie Lindlar, deputy production editor
Sarah Johnson’s dispatch from Accra, on how Ghana became the world’s fast fashion dumping ground, is a fascinating look into how secondhand clothes from the global north became a crushing bane for the country. Nimo
From Atlanta to You, our critics have put together a round-up of the best TV of 2023 so far. Don’t miss comedy-drama Beef (pictured above), a twisting tale of road rage that becomes something surprisingly profound. Charlie
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Few articles have felt at first so preposterous, and yet after, so enlightening as this essay in The Atlantic (£) from writer Jeff Oloizia, who boldly argues that “movies are best before noon”. Charlie
Football | Former France international Karim Benzema will join Saudi Arabian club Al-Ittihad, confirming his departure from Real Madrid after 14 seasons. Benzema’s reportedly very lucrative contract with the Saudi champions is understood to be for two years, with the option of a third.
Tennis | Japan’s Miyu Kato was disqualified from the French Open for accidentally striking a ball girl with a ball. Kato did not strike the ball in anger and has lodged an appeal against the default. Meanwhile, Holger Rune, the sixth seed, reached his second consecutive French Open quarter-final, defeating Francisco Cerundolo 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-4, 1-6, 7-6(7).
Obituary | American sprinter Jim Hines, the first man to break the 10-second barrier for the 100 metres, has died aged 76. Hines clocked 9.95 seconds when winning gold in the 100m at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, a world record which stood for 15 years.
The front pages
The Guardian leads with “Ukraine troops intensify frontline raids in apparents shift in strategy”, as speculation grows that the long-anticipated counteroffensive may have begun. The Telegraph says “PM set to overrule Lords on boats Bill”.
The Financial Times reports “Staff data stolen from BA, BBC and Boots by ‘hack and leak’ cyber gang”. The i says “Covid families’ fury as inquiry into NHS failures delayed until after election”. The Mail claims “Families face £1,000 a year bill for Labour eco plans”.
The Times leads with claims from Rishi Sunak’s adviser on artificial intelligence with “Two years to save the world, says AI adviser”. The Mirror carries a plea to the prime minister from the mother of a boy who was killed by a dog, under the headline “Dear Mr Sunak … Please, remember our Jack”. Finally, the Sun claims Taylor Swift has split with Matty Healy after a month with the headline “That was a Swift one”.
Today in Focus
What is the UK government hiding from the Covid inquiry?
Next week the first full hearings will take place in the UK’s Covid-19 inquiry. It is expected to last at least three years and cover everything from the government’s preparedness for pandemics to the conduct of those responding to. But as the Guardian’s political correspondent Aubrey Allegretti tells Michael Safi, the aims of the inquiry itself have become clouded in recent days by a row between the government and the inquiry’s chair over who gets to decide what information is relevant and in the public interest to examine.
Cartoon of the day | Nicola Jennings
A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad
A revolutionary new drug for blood cancer has been shown to cut the risk of the disease progressing by 74%. By genetically modifying T-cells, researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee have managed to slow multiple myeloma in patients who are no longer responding to other treatments.
Ciltacabtagene autoleucel – or Carvykti – “significantly slows or stops progression” of the cancer, according to research presented at the world’s largest cancer conference, the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (Asco) annual meeting in Chicago. The treatment is already available to some patients in Europe and the US.
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