The Scottish Government had sought to introduce HPMAs in 10% of Scottish waters, but the proposals were scrapped in the face of opposition from fishing communities and other campaigners.
A new poll by conservation group Blue Marine Foundation and the Sustainable Coastal Fisheries Trust (SIFT) has shown that Scots support setting aside more water for nature restoration, with fishing excluded.
An average of responses in the research, carried out by Survation, found support for giving this rating to 40% of Scotland’s inshore waters – the area of sea from the coast to 12 nautical miles.
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Those asked want just over a third (34%) of the water in this area to be used for low-impact fishing, such as hunting, with activities such as dredging and trawling limited to just 26% of the water.
Joe Richards, Scotland project director at the Blue Marine Foundation, said the research shows that “Scottish people want to see their seas properly protected”.
He added: “It is time for the Scottish Government to do what it says and deliver on what it promised.
“Experience from around the world has shown time and again that designating marine areas for wildlife is, by far, the most effective way to restore marine life.
“This survey shows that this is not only good for the sea, but is very popular with the public, as well as areas designated for the low-impact fleet.”
“Currently, almost none of our coastal waters are designated for low-impact fishing, even though crawling in particular is the most sustainable way to catch prawns and other shellfish,” SIFT Executive Director Charles Millar said.
“Whatever comes out of the HPMA process, this has to change. Ministers would be wise to listen to the public on this, and create areas where low-impact fishers can operate exclusively.”
“Ministers should also establish other areas for the dredging and trawling fleet where their activities can be far less harmful.”
Bali Philp, national co-ordinator of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said: “There are numerous studies, some of which have been conducted by the Scottish Government themselves, that show that if you create large-scale, low-impact fishing zones, these can actually increase catches and other employment opportunities.” Such as diving, fishing and marine tourism.
“This is exactly the strategy that can breathe new life into many of our coastal communities.
“The choice is not just jobs in industrial fisheries or a recovered marine environment. We can actually boost jobs in coastal communities and make huge conservation gains at the same time.”
“The 12-mile coastal limit, where no trawling or dredging is permitted, has been remarkably successful both for Norway’s inshore fishermen and for their marine environment. It appears that the public will support the Scottish Government to follow suit.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is committed to strengthening marine protection, while doing so in a way that is fair and ensures that our seas remain a source of prosperity for the nation, especially in our remote, coastal and island communities.
“Scotland’s world-famous seafood sector supports vital jobs in our economy, particularly in coastal and island communities. We have always been clear about the importance of working within environmental limits, ensuring fish stocks are managed sustainably, thus providing a resource for future generations and protecting the diversity of the marine ecosystem.
“That’s why we have strong controls in place to protect environmentally sensitive areas, such as the ‘no take’ zone in Lamlash Bay, the seasonal closure of the Clyde cod fishery to protect spawning areas, and the recent designation of the Red Rocks and Lungai Marine Protected Area. A fin protection zone.
“A total of 230 sites are now subject to marine protection measures, covering approximately 227,622 square kilometers – 37% – of Scotland’s seas.
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“The marine protected area in western Scotland, the largest marine protected area in Europe, is considered by the Convention on Biological Diversity to be ‘of international importance’.
“We have committed to prioritizing work to introduce management measures into existing marine protected areas where they are not yet in place, and to protect some of the most vulnerable priority marine features outside marine protected areas, including those most vulnerable to bottom-contact fishing gear.
“We will set out the details of these proposals in due course.”