The SNP’s Rural Affairs Secretary has told fishermen that “change is needed” to protect the environment amid proposals to set up no-take zones around one tenth of Scottish waters.

Mairi Gougeon has stressed to the industry that “there must always be space for fishing”, as part of plans to set up Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs), adding that the sector “must and will survive and thrive”.

But the minister was reportedly heckled by fishermen as she addressed them at a conference in Aberdeen.

The Scottish Government held a public consultation ahead of publishing its HPMA plans, with the aim of designating 10% of Scottish waters.

No human activity, including fishing, will be allowed to take place in the zones.

The UK Government is pursuing the same policy for waters in England, and has allocated three specific areas so far.

Ms Gougeon addressed the concerns at the Scottish Skipper Expo in Aberdeen.

The minister told the industry that the success of the sector was “in large part down to the joint-working between Government and industry”.

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She added: “We need to get back to that cooperative engagement to make change happen and build on the foundations we have for a better future for all.

"I know times are really challenging, there are concerns over what the future holds, and this tests the close relationships that we have.”

Ms Gougeon pointed to “significant trade barriers” caused by the UK Government and Brexit, as well as “a hostile UK immigration policy that has exacerbated labour shortages and rural depopulation”.

She claimed that “independence, and reversing the harms of Brexit, continues to offer the best future for Scottish fishing and wider seafood sector”.

The Angus MSP acknowledged there was “uncertainty about the place that fishing has in Scotland and the space that will be available to operate in”.

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She added: “The way we use our sea is evolving at pace, and the competition for marine space is ever more intense.

“In amongst this competition, we are also focussed on protecting areas of the sea.”

Ms Gougeon told fishermen that “if we want coastal communities and our historic fishing industry to thrive in the future, things need to change”.

She said: “People are worried what change might mean for our coastal communities.

“But change is needed in order to help to sustain and restore our fisheries for the future, and the communities and people that depend on them.

“Our knowledge about the impact of human activity on the seabed, the need to guard against biodiversity loss and mitigate against climate change, drives us to seek improvements.”

Ms Gougeon stressed that the Scottish Government must take “measures to improve our marine environment”, but warned there is a need “to balance the sustainable use of marine resources”.

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She said: “I want you to hear me when I say – Scotland’s fishing industry is the lifeblood of our coastal Scotland. This industry is important.

“It is important for the jobs, people and families it supports; it is important for the food it provides; and for the way of life that it sustains.

“You are key to the future prosperity of our coastal communities.

“Whatever the shape of our marine environment in the future, there must always be space for fishing – the fishing industry must and will survive and thrive.”

But fishing bosses remain concerned about the proposals.

Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF), called on Ms Gougeon to "stop and rethink” the plans.

She said: “I’m sorry to say that our recent experience in engaging with the Government on HPMAs has been far from meaningful.

"We all need to work to protect nature and we all need to act to help tackle climate change. But this is not the way to do it.

“I absolutely know I am not alone in calling for the Government to stop and rethink these proposals, which are causing great concern and anxiety all around Scotland’s coast.

“Sadly, the Scottish Government’s approach to HPMAs is taking us backwards.

“Generated from a political agreement with the Scottish Greens, SFF firmly believes that the Government has failed to make its case for HPMAs, and strongly opposes the approach set out in the recent consultation.”