An open letter written by a commercial fisherman has called for restrictions to curb more damaging forms of fishing in inshore waters.

Alistair Philp, National Coordinator of the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation, writes: “Now that the threat of the poorly thought-out Highly Protected Marine Area (HPMA) proposals has passed, it is time to have a sensible debate about the alternative options."

The letter issued on behalf of the Our Seas coalition, which includes a wide range of coastal organisations, describes a need to "reverse the decades of mismanagement that has already hollowed out much of our inshore fishing industry.”

It argues for the reinstatement of an inshore limit akin to or like the historic three-mile limit on trawling - designed to preserve fish nursery and spawning grounds - such as was in place until 1984.

The original three-mile-limit, which was in place for a century, allowed for low-impact creel fishing, but banned industrial trawlers.

The letter also notes that government studies have shown “that a reinstated inshore limit on trawling would yield more economic benefit for rural Scotland”.

It distinguishes between damaging fishing and small-scale sustainable fishing, and notes that the public recognise the difference.

“One of the most telling responses to the HPMA consultation,” writes Mr Philp, “was the public concern that all fishing would be banned. Many people recognised the big difference between small-scale, low impact creel and dive fishing boats, and those larger more industrial vessels which trawled the seabed and likely need to be regulated in some areas. Why ban them all?”

The inshore limit was scrapped in 1984, says the letter, following the “mismanagement and consequent collapse of both the herring and inshore whitefish fisheries” when new fish stocks were sought for exploitation.

The Herald: Order will stem the decline of Clyde fisheryCreel fishing on Loch Fyne. Photograph: Colin Mearns

This opened those inshore fishing grounds that, it notes,  had previously been “the lifeblood and last refuge of the small-scale inshore day-boat fleet” to industrial trawling.

The political discourse around HPMAs, the letter notes, has ignored this context. “Headlines decrying HPMAs as risking the total destruction of the fishing industry and rural communities, have focused the public debate about our fisheries as a battle between insensitive central belt politicians against salmon farmers and fishermen united in defence of rural development and values.”

“The truth is as ever much more complex. Whilst many small-scale inshore fishermen had very legitimate concerns about the unacceptable uncertainty created by the Government’s plans to ban all fishing in an unspecified 10% of Scotland’s seas, the campaign against HPMAs was in fact backed by some very deep commercial pockets.”

Among those it cites as running a “concerted campaign” against HPMAs are Scottish Salmon and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation. It expresses concern that those same bodies may now be poised to “naysay any future conservation measures”.

“In the Our Seas coalition,” it says, “the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation stands alongside community and environmental organisations that want sustainability. None of these organisations want to see fishermen out of business; we want long-overdue measures to recover Scotland’s coastal fish populations and fisheries, joined up with rural development policy.”

The SNP-Green government was forced to ditch its controversial plans to implement HPMAs, which would restrict fishing and other activities across 10% of Scotland’s seas when they met ferocious backlash earlier this year.

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Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said: “The SFF represents many inshore fishermen – indeed several of our associations have membership that either mostly or wholly fish inshore. We also represent fishing businesses from all around Scotland that are locally owned.

“The Seafood Coalition that formed to fight against HPMAs included other representative bodies for inshore fishers.

“We believe in the coexistence of fleet segments, which leads to more sustainable and balanced use of marine resources.

“Studies have shown that to meet the demand of different markets, both static and mobile gears are needed to produce food that is affordable and accessible to a wide range of consumers.

“Stocks in Scottish waters including the west coast are showing positive trends, demonstrating that spawning areas and juvenile grounds are healthy. “Those that are not recovering may be related to other factors, e.g. changing environmental conditions and intensity of natural mortality from predators. The industry is constantly seeking ways to improve selectivity and avoid bycatch.

“Much will be achieved through the Future Catching Policy and Fisheries Management Plans that Scottish Government is now discussing with stakeholders. There is a balance to be struck between protection and sustainable fisheries."

Minister for Energy and the Environment Gillian Martin said: “The Scottish Government is fully committed to the sustainable development of Scottish fisheries; delivering appropriate management in our shared marine space and enhancing marine protection in a way that is fair and which ensures our seas remain a source of prosperity for the nation, especially in our coastal and island communities.

“We work in partnership with inshore fishing businesses, the wider fishing industry, and other stakeholders to ensure that we benefit from their expertise when managing our fisheries. Cooperation and co-management will ensure that both Scotland’s fishing industry and our marine environment can thrive sustainably

“That also applies to the evidence-based approach we are developing to manage our inshore waters, taking account of complex ecology and habitats, different types of fishing and how they interact with the marine environment. An arbitrary limit - which would restrict trawl or dredge activity in all our inshore waters - would be incompatible with that approach."

Mr Philp advocates for a 12-mile inshore limit much bigger than the original Scottish three-mile limit and  “similar to that in Norway”.

“Norway has,” he said, “what is widely recognised to be one of the most successful inshore fishing industries, from both an environmental and economic point of view, on mainland Europe. Our coastal communities would truly thrive if the Scottish government learned from the success of the Norway model.”