MCS response to Scotland’s Programme for Government 2018-19

By: Calum Duncan
Date posted: 6 September 2018

With Scotland home to 61% of UK seas, and marine conservation and fisheries being devolved matters, plans by the Scottish Government have the potential to contribute greatly to UK marine conservation. Here, MCS Head of Conservation Scotland Calum Duncan welcomes commitments in the Scottish Government’s latest Programme for Government 2018-19, but emphasises time is of the essence to return Scotland’s seas to health.

There is much to welcome in this year’s Programme for Government to help improve protection of our seas, modernise fisheries management and reduce ocean plastic announced by Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Tuesday. However with 2020 the year after next, by which our seas are meant to be in ‘good environmental status’, there is still some way to go, with increasing pressure to use our seas and the life in them.

Urchin

Marine Protected Areas and ocean recovery

After MCS and conservation partners in the Save Scottish Seas coalition highlighted the delays in establishing much-needed MPAs for basking shark, minke whale, Risso’s dolphin, northern seafan and sponge communities and other habitats, MCS is delighted that proposals for four new MPAs will be consulted on this year.

Most of the UK deep sea habitat is to the far west and north of Scotland, so following last year’s commitment to evaluate options, MCS is pleased that the Scottish Government plan to “consult on the creation of a national deep sea marine reserve, with the aim of this being in place by the end of 2019 (and) protect some of the most vulnerable habitats and species on the planet, such as coral gardens and the leafscale gulper shark.” With deep-sea mining on the horizon elsewhere, we would hope these proposals could prevent such damaging proposals in Scotland’s seas.

We also welcome commitment to identify actions in a new Seabird Conservation Strategy to address the significant declines in seabird populations, such as puffins.

fishing vessels

Improving fisheries management

A national discussion paper on the Future of Fisheries Management will be published in the autumn. Following last year’s disappointment that commitment to a new Inshore Fisheries (Scotland) Bill had been superceded, MCS welcome this fresh commitment to develop “a new approach to fisheries management in partnership with the fishing industry and other stakeholders, establishing a world-leading, sustainable fisheries management strategy”. MCS will work to ensure “policy proposals for consultation at the end of 2019” include firm commitments to ecosystem-based fisheries management that protects and enhances the marine biodiversity on which all fisheries depend. We think this is the approach that “best benefits the Scottish industry, coastal communities, our marine environment and people throughout Scotland” and agree that it should apply “equally to offshore, inshore and farmed activity.”

The commitment ”to modernise the management of inshore fisheries through the introduction of appropriate vessel tracking and monitoring” is both crucial and welcome. In short, for transparent and environmentally sustainable fisheries management we need to know whom is fishing for what, where and according to a management strategy that nurtures fish and shellfish stocks, protects important habitats and species and enables ecosystem recovery.

Anemone

Biodiversity

A new Biodiversity Challenge Fund worth up to £2 million will “enable targeted action to deliver projects across Scotland focusing on creating and improving habitats for key species.” MCS welcome this and would expect that this fund could be available for projects to help restore Scotland’s seas.

New post-2020 international biodiversity targets will also be developed. It is crucial that these take on board the latest international advice from organisations such as the IUCN to up the ambition and action for marine ecosystem recovery. We note for example the recent IUCN motion to encourage protection of “at least 30% of each marine habitat in a network of highly protected MPAs and other effective area-based conservation measures, with the ultimate aim of creating a fully sustainable ocean, at least 30% of which has no extractive activities, subject to the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.”

DRS Penguin

Ocean plastics and marine litter

Following our partnership work with Fidra, MCS is pleased that “in the coming year, we will ban the manufacture and sale of plastic stemmed cotton buds.” As announced last year, following the successful Have You Got The Bottle campaign of which we are proud founding partners and the recent consultation, MCS is delighted that the Scottish Government “will design and implement a deposit return scheme for drinks containers.” Please respond to the consultation and sign up for the 2018 MCS Great British Beach Clean.

We look forward to further meaningful recommendations to turn the tide on ocean plastics from the Scottish Government’s Expert Panel on Environmental Charges. MCS has been calling for levies on coffee cups and lids and other single-use plastic items. Following the recent launch of the SCRAPbook project of which MCS is a founding partner, and which is already highlighting the distribution of fishing litter and other items, we look forward to engaging with the development of “proposals to tackle the issue of fishing litter and lost gear.”

All these welcome initiatives sit within a wider context of continuing declines in shark, skate, ray, common seal and seabird populations, increasing pressure on seabed habitats already under strain, recently highlighted by the proposal to dredge Scotland’s kelp forests, and a still rising tide of plastic. MCS will continue to engage constructively to encourage the systemic changes needed to ensure thriving seas in future.