CONTROVERSIAL plans to ban fishing in 10 per cent of Scotland’s seas could be dead in the water after Humza Yousaf insisted the government would not “impose these policies on communities that don't want them.”

The plans for the Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) have sparked fury in coastal and island communities and have even been compared to the Highland Clearances by campaigners. 

As well as banning fishing, the tough new regulations would also prohibit any industrial activities, including dredging and cabling for wind farms. Recreational activities would also be subject to strict monitoring and management.

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The rollout of the HPMAs was one of the pledges in the Bute House power-sharing agreement signed by the SNP and the Scottish Greens following the 2021 election.

The First Minister was challenged on the policy by Tory MSP Rachael Hamilton as he set out his priorities for government in Holyrood on Tuesday afternoon. 

She urged him to “drop the reckless HPMA proposals.”

Responding, Mr Yousaf said he had heard and listened “to the concerns of our coastal, our island, our fishing communities.” 

He added: “The constitution, of course, that closed yesterday. No criteria, no site selection has been made. We will analyse the consultation. 

“But having spoken this morning to Màiri McAllan, she will, and we will as a government, engage with those coastal communities, with those fishing communities to hear from them.

“A very basic principle that we have always operated by, and I continue to reaffirm and confirm today, is that we are not going to impose these policies on communities that don't want them. 

“So we will work constructively with them.”

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However, the First Minister told Ms Hamilton that Scotland was facing the ”twin crises of a climate emergency and nature and biodiversity loss.”

He said tackling these crises would require “taking really difficult decisions.” 

“Now, it's really important that difficult decisions that we make gather as much consensus in this Parliament as possible. Only by doing that, only by taking really difficult decisions will we ensure that we tackle those twin crises.

"But I hear what a number of our communities, our fishing communities, our island communities are saying. Of course, this is an area that's of importance to the government, important to our green colleagues as well. 

"But I'm sure we are in absolute agreement, I know we are in absolute agreement, that we will work with our coastal communities, with our fishing communities to see if we can find a way forward together.” 

Ms Hamilton said she was glad that the government had "appeared to back down."

She told The Herald: “After pressure from the industry and the Scottish Conservatives, it seems that Humza Yousaf has u-turned on plans to ban fishing in large sections of Scotland’s seas.

“Coastal communities are firmly against these reckless proposals from the SNP-Green Government, so I am glad that they appear to have finally backed down.

“Future plans must be drawn up with the involvement and support of local communities and essential industries.”

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Earlier in the day, Orkney MSP Liam McArthur had raised his concerns about the impact of HPMAs on the islands. 

The Lib Dem said:”Coastal and island communities rely on the marine environment. It goes without saying that protecting stocks and the biodiversity of our waters is of paramount importance. However, the approach being taken by the Scottish Government to HPMAs appears overly-rigid and likely to do real damage to those communities.”

He said the government should scrap plans to introduce the restrictions by 2026 and commit to a “more flexible, tailored and proportionate model”. 

“Doing the wrong thing for the right reason will come as no comfort if it takes out large swathes of Scotland’s inshore fishing sector,” he said.

Last week, Donald MacNeil, a fisherman in Barra, and Angus MacPhail, the founder of Skipinnish released a single called “The Clearances Again.”

It was shared on social media by former finance secretary and Mr Yousaf's SNP leadership rival, Kate Forbes. 

Mr MacPhail said HPMAs posed “the biggest peacetime risk to our communities since the Highland Clearances and give zero regard to the effective local management of these waters.”

“To be told by officials in Edinburgh that they know better than those of us in the fishing community is frankly insulting and proves they know nothing of how we operate and how fragile the economy of these communities are,” he added.

In a statement released later on Tuesday, Ms McAllan said the government was committed to tackling the climate emergency "via a fair and just transition which empowers communities and shares in the benefits of a green economy."  

She added: "I recognise there is considerable strength of feeling on this issue – from those who support it and those who have concerns.

"It has always been our intention to develop these ambitious proposals in close collaboration with those impacted by them – in particular, people living and working in our island and coastal communities.

"That’s why we have chosen to consult right at the beginning of the process and why I have committed to now consider the responses to our initial consultation very carefully as we develop next steps.

"I want to give my assurance that I am listening and absolutely recognise the value that Scotland’s fishing and aquaculture sectors play in contributing to our economic prosperity. I will visit coastal and island communities in the coming months to hear directly from those affected."