The State of Scotland’s marine environment

By John Scott MSP (Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs & the Environment)

Policy makers need to take note, the success or otherwise of sea angling depends entirely on healthy and diverse fish stocks - a healthy sea angling sector is of huge economic importance to coastal communities all around Scotland.

In an age of ever increasing concern about biodiversity and ‘green’ issues generally, it is perhaps surprising that comparatively little is said about the health of the marine environment here in Scotland.

As a coastal nation Scotland is of course blessed with an abundance of marine habitats which are, or at least should be, home to a bewildering array of species. Yet while much energy is quite correctly spent examining the decline of iconic creatures on land, such as the Scottish wild cat or capercaillie, it is peculiar that equally spectacular Scottish species, like the common skate and porbeagle, are scarcely mentioned in a policy context.

Such a state of affairs is deeply regrettable because unless or until policy-makers grant the marine environment the same level of focus as land based habitats, there is a very real danger that the quality of marine habitats could deteriorate beyond the point of no return. Regrettably it may already be too late for places such as the Firth of Clyde where the problems are well known.

In terms of who is taking the health of Scotland’s marine environment seriously, we need look no further than the sea angling community here in Scotland. With the success or otherwise of the sport depending entirely on healthy and diverse fish stocks, sea anglers have set the standard in pioneering a sensible and sustainable approach to marine stewardship. A prime example of this is the Give Fish A Chance initiative whereby anglers are advised to take note of minimum sizes and to release any fish which have not yet had a chance to breed. Anglers are also given advice on how to minimise damage and distress to the fish themselves during the catching process.

Policy makers should take note because a healthy sea angling sector is of huge economic importance to coastal communities all around Scotland. This has been proven by the conclusions of the long awaited Scottish Government report on the economic impact of recreational sea angling published last year. The report found that the sport supports well over 3,000 full time equivalent jobs and almost £70 million annually of household income. Crucially, if sea angling ceased, the report predicted a net loss of at least 1,675 jobs and an annual income loss of £37 million.

It remains my view that a great deal more could be done to boost the revenue generated by fishing tourism in Scotland, not least by sea angling, however if we are serious about bringing this about then a renewed focus on a healthier marine environment around Scotland’s coasts will be an essential step. To this end, the lack of reliable science on fish stocks, especially on the west coast of Scotland, is an oft cited problem and it is therefore vital that this be improved. This work could easily be expanded to include a thorough analysis of the rarer species which are of interest to sea anglers such as sharks and rays. On this point it is right to pay tribute to the excellent work done by Scottish Shark Tagging Programme (SSTP) and the success of initiatives such as the annual ‘Spurdog Tagathon’ and the ‘Sharkatag’ weekend.

In terms of my own role as the Scottish Conservative spokesman on fisheries and the environment over the past three and half years, it has been a pleasure to work with the Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network and I pay tribute to their work. I especially enjoyed hosting a debate on sea angling in the Scottish Parliament back in February 2008 which I hope went some way to reminding politicians of the importance of the sector. SSACN continue to do a sterling job in representing the interests of their fellow sea anglers and I wish both SSACN and everyone associated with them a happy and prosperous 2011.

John Scott was first elected to the Scottish Parliament in March 2000, after winning the Ayr by-election. He was re-elected in May 2003 and May 2007. John Scott has been a farmer for over 30 years.

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