A FORMER SNP rural affairs minister has ripped up a copy of the controversial plan to ban fishing off 10 per cent of Scotland, warning it would “haunt” the Government.

Fergus Ewing said he had never seen a backlash to a policy in almost half a century like the one to Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs).

The Inverness and Nairn MSP was speaking in a member’s debate on HPMAs staged by Shetland Liberal Democrat MSP Beatrice Wishart.

A key plank of the SNP-Green joint government deal, HPMAs would see strict limits on human activity such as swimming and aquaculture in at least 10% of Scotland’s waters.

The areas are supposed to be designated by the end of the current parliament in 2026.

However the issue has proved hugely unpopular in the coastal and island communities which could be affected, with warnings the fishing ban could destroy their way of life.

Another former SNP minister, Alasdair Allan, said he had never known his Western Isles constituency “to be apparently so unanimously opposed to any policy as this one".

SNP leadership runner-up Kate Forbes, the MSP for Skye, also spoke against HPMAs, saying the government should ditch them or reach a compromise with the fishing industry.

She acknowledged the Scottish Government was now saying that HMPAs would not be imposed on any community opposed to them, but she said that would be difficult to achieve, given she had yet to come across a community that wanted them.

She said they could damage the fishing industry, and so hasten rural depopulation, thereby damaging the Gaelic language, Scotland’s heritage, culture and tourism industry. 

The consultation on HMPAs closed last month and around 4,000 responses were received. 

Concluding his contribution by holding up a copy of the document, Mr Ewing said: “This will haunt the Scottish Government, this issue.This will not go away.

“This is not a consultation document - it’s a notice of execution, together with inshore cap and the special marine features, which are really putting the fear of God into our fishermen,

“And the collective anger of all of that, as Dr Allan has already said, is palpable, and in 49 years I have not come across anything like it.

“The minister should withdraw the document, apologise, get round the coast, go round all the fishing ports or most of them as I have tried to do in my time, and then she should go back to the drawing board and work with the fishing communities.

“With regard to this document I’ve got three suggestions to make about what to do with it.

“First of all, put it in the burgeoning policy recycling unit along with the advertising ban [on alcohol] and deposit return. Secondly, if you prefer, use it as a firelighter.

“Thirdly, what I think - and in doing this I think I’m summing up the views of the people I’ve worked for and valued and cherished for nearly 50 years - this is what to do with it.”

He then ripped it to shreds and threw the pieces on his desk

“This is what I do now and that is what the people of Scotland, who have great affection for our fisherman, want to happen, what should happen, and what I believe will happen at some stage or another.”

The minister in charge, SNP Net Zero Secretary Mairi McAllan, stressed the work was at an early stage, and stressed her own connections to rural life.

Earlier, she held a call with around 40 MSPs and MPs with constituencies affected by the HPMA plans, and hinted at further consultation to come, saying the exercise which ended last month was merely an “initial consultation”. 

Ms McAllan said: “There was widespread agreement that protecting our marine natural environment is vital. 

“It is an unavoidable truth that we are in the midst of a climate and nature crisis and we must be prepared to take action commensurate with the scale of that challenge. 

“However it is also true that, as we tackle the climate emergency, we must do so via a fair and just transition which empowers communities and shares in the benefits of a green economy.  

“It is important to remember the proposals are at a very early stage and no specific sites have been selected – and both I and the First Minister have been clear that we have no intention of imposing HPMAs on communities against their will.

“The recent initial consultation we undertook has received thousands of responses, and we are now carefully analysing these as we consider our next steps.”

Ms Wishart said: "It’s no exaggeration to say that the proposals for Highly Protected Marine Areas, or HPMAs, have struck fear and anxiety in coastal and island communities.

"The communication from the Scottish Government about its proposals has been poor. Had it engaged meaningfully with communities before now it is possible that some concerns could have been alleviated.

"Addressing the climate emergency and protecting our vulnerable coastal and island communities is not in doubt but should be led by proportional and evidence-based policy, not imposed by a top-down approach.

"It’s time to stop implying fishermen don’t care about our seas. The fishing sector rely on sustainable catches and benefit from healthy seas. The Scottish Government should re-think this policy now."

Green MSP Ariane Burgess said: “Our coastal economies are a rich tapestry including recreation, hospitality, tourism and shipping and the increasingly growing sector of nature restoration. 

“Many of these will benefit from HPMAs, just like in Arran, where the Lamlash Bay no-take zone has both increased tourism and catches of lobster near the HPMA.   

“There is no hiding place from the climate crisis, there is no place around these isles that are immune from change."

The Scottish Tories will force a vote on rethinking HPMAs at Holyrood tomorrow.