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 Fri 9 Nov 2007
Ian Johnston, right, hands the calls for action...

Ian Johnston, right, hands the calls for action to Save our Seas to Richard Lochhead, the Scottish environment secretary, yesterday.
Picture: Jane Barlow

Minister pledges to listen to the voice of the nation


THE sea is an extremely important resource for Scotland. Our waters contain some of the best fishing grounds in the world, North Sea oil has been worth billions of pounds and marine energy brings the promise of a new economic dawn.

The fish farm industry has grown rapidly in recent years and wildlife tourism is also becoming increasingly important.

For all of these reasons, it is vital we ensure the health of the marine environment on which most of this depends and over the past month The Scotsman has been setting out how and why this should be done.

The Scottish Government has responded positively to our Save Our Seas campaign, which calls for a network of marine reserves to be created round the coast as part of a package of measures we believe are necessary, but its warm words will now be put to the test.

Over the next few months, politicians and officials will have to work on the concrete proposals for the Marine Bill that will make it a truly worthwhile piece of legislation.

So far, just over 1,000 coupons and e-mails of support for Save Our Seas have been sent in by the public.

And yesterday, as The Scotsman presented the coupons to Richard Lochhead, the Scottish environment secretary, he spoke of his determination to bring in "ambitious and meaningful legislation".

"I pay tribute to The Scotsman campaign which has clearly been vindicated by the number of members of the public who have expressed their support for protecting our precious marine environment," he said.

"I have no doubt that those who have replied to The Scotsman campaign speak for the nation and I recognise the Scottish Government's role is to respond to this challenge.

"I am determined to use the months ahead to prepare the ground for ambitious and meaningful legislation.

"No sensible person who cares about the future of the marine environment wants a half-****ed, incomplete bill."

As laid out in our campaign manifesto, The Scotsman believes this means a network of marine reserves or protected areas should be created around the coast to safeguard rare and important forms of life and places of particularly rich biodiversity.

There should also be a system of marine spatial planning to organise our use of the sea in the best possible way - ensuring that human activities are in the best places and can co-exist, rather than destroy, sealife - and a marine management organisation to oversee it.

A good Marine Bill will be an all-encompassing piece of legislation that largely replaces the myriad of rules and regulations from different acts of parliament which currently apply.

But it should not simply speed up the process for new developments or become a "manifesto for further exploitation of the sea".

A key test will be whether the bill contains ways to measure the health of the marine ecosystem to ensure we are living within the sea's environmental limits and take steps to adjust our behaviour if this is not the case.

Calum Duncan, marine task force convener for umbrella body Scottish Environment LINK, said: "We commend The Scotsman for an inspiring campaign that has resonated with people throughout the country and helped inform an important debate on the future of our world-class seas.

"We welcome the ambition of the Cabinet secretary for a bill that really delivers win-win solutions for Scotland's seas and coastal communities.

"In order to do so, protection, restoration and enhancement of Scotland's marine environment must be the priority for the bill, through delivery of marine planning, a lead marine organisation, nationally important marine areas and marine ecosystem objectives."

Jonny Hughes, head of policy at the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT), said: "Richard Lochhead's commitment to an 'ambitious and meaningful' Scottish Marine Bill reflects a welcome step forward and is very much in line with growing public opinion.

"The bill will finally give Scotland the opportunity to move away from blinkered short-termism, unchecked damage and over-exploitation, towards a vision of abundant and thriving seas we can all benefit from, and be rightly proud of."

Dr Becky Boyd, marine policy officer for SWT, said: "Even without extended powers, there is a great deal the government can do to rise to this challenge.

"A Scottish Marine Bill that steps up to the plate of public demand will include a statutory marine planning system with national leadership and local participation in local plans, marine protected areas for Scotland's marine treasures, strong links with fisheries planning and most importantly, an explicit commitment to ensure that marine eco- system health underpins decision-making."

Scotland's fishermen are widely recognised as the most environmentally friendly in Europe. But the alarming decline of cod stocks in some of the world's best fishing grounds underlines the need to take conservation seriously.

Cod stocks have recently shown signs of a recovery and our fishermen yesterday announced a step-up of the voluntary scheme to temporarily close areas of sea where too many juvenile cod are being caught, by raising the size of fish triggering the shutdown from 35 to 50 centimetres. The scheme is the first of its kind in Europe and a demonstration of the increasing sense of agreement between Scotland's fishermen and environmentalists.

Bertie Armstrong, the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, stressed the scheme was just "one strand in a whole bundle of positive, proactive initiatives to make sure that the cod recovery now under way takes real hold".

"Innovative changes to net components, verification of cod avoidance by use of an observer programme and development of coherent strategies by area are all part of the Scottish fishing industry's much wider approach to sustainable fishing," he said.

A Marine Bill should help this drive to achieve a sustainable catch by increasing the health of the eco-system as a whole.

And if the waters become healthier and life more abundant, there is no reason why our fleet should not be able to catch more fish than at present.

We have much to gain from the seas and by managing them sensibly they will remain a hugely valuable resource for future generations.


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