Cllr Alasdair MacLeod, chair of the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Sustainable Development committee, has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs to convey the Comhairle’s continued opposition to marine designations in and around the Outer Hebrides.
In a letter to Mr Richard Lochhead MSP, Cllr MacLeod said: “A recent briefing on proposed new designations to elected members by Scottish Natural Heritage and Marine Scotland has only served to strengthen the Comhairle’s policy position and resolve on the issue of environmental designations.
“The recent announcements around the management of inshore SACs and Marine Protected Areas has left the fishing community angered at the huge economic impact on the local fish catching and processing sectors and the potential job losses that will result.
“The Comhairle and the fishing communities of the Outer Hebrides are fundamentally opposed to designations being imposed by the Scottish Government. The Comhairle endorses the ten recommendations contained in the joint letter from commercial fishing interests across Shetland, Orkney and the Outer Hebrides.
“At a recent meeting of the full Comhairle, elected members were strongly of the opinion that the issue of designations should remain a critical work-stream within the “Our Islands Our Future” process and that the process should seek to develop ways in which powers can be brought to the Outer Hebrides and the other Scottish islands to give the relevant local authority and the local community the final say on whether a designation proceeds or not. The Comhairle believes that increased local accountability, decision making and control is critical to future management of pressures on the marine environment. This view is shared by the community and especially the fishing industry.
“In order to progress this matter, the Comhairle has agreed to establish a joint Comhairle/ fisheries industry group to engage with the Scottish Government, UK Government (as EU member state) and the European Commission in order to make them fully aware of the effect and extent of designations. We wish to make clear the level of local opposition to these designations, to make a case for the halting of the presently proposed marine designations, to explore a process for the removal of some of the existing designations, to end the practice of pre-emption on proposed designations until formal consultation has been completed and a decision made and, failing progress being made on these issues, to open discussion around compensatory measures in light of lost economic opportunity.
“In the strongest possible terms the Comhairle requests that the existing proposals for environmental designations around the Outer Hebrides are withdrawn immediately and that the proposed consultation on the Marine Protected Area network is halted.
“I trust that the Scottish Government will respect the views of the community of the Outer Hebrides.”