Fishing leaders have accused the Scottish Government of failing to protect the industry from a boom in offshore windfarms.
The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) has warned that a new national marine strategy for Scotland appears to favour renewable developments over fishing.
It is feared the proposed plan could threaten fishermen’s livelihoods unless a balance is reached and could even take away their centuries-old right to fish.
Scottish ministers are drawing up the National Marine Plan (NMP), which will, for the first time, set out a strategy to enable “sustainable economic growth” of fishing, renewables and other marine industries. It comes as work progresses on two major offshore green-energy projects in the north and north-east.
SFF chief executive Bertie Armstrong said last night: “The fishing industry has been here for 400 years and we don’t want to be displaced.
“For example, over the years, the oil and gas and fishing industries have built up a good working relationship, of which we are very proud.
“What we need to see is a balance in the rules so that we are protected against the development of new industries, such as offshore windfarms.”
Nearly 300 turbines are proposed in SSE’s Beatrice scheme, earmarked for a site eight miles off the coast of Caithness. Energy giant Statoil is also committed to installing five turbines at a site called Buchan Deep, 12 miles from Peterhead.
An early draft of the Scottish Government’s marine plan went out for consultation last summer.
In its strongly worded response, the federation has rejected the strategy, expressing “deep disappointment” that the fishing industry is being given a lower priority than marine renewables.
“While the NMP nods in the direction of fishing and its contributions to Scotland’s society, as we understand it, it proposes nothing concrete to protect it against new development,” the SFF states.
“The fishing industry would be more than co-operative in relation to the introduction of new sustainable development, if the NMP were to provide a fair balance. Regrettably, short-term gain is allowed, once again, to conquer cultural heritage.”
The SFF’s lengthy submission, which has been published online, continues: “Sea fishing, which has a tradition almost as long as the existence of the nation, deserves protection in the planning process in the same way as protection in the terrestrial planning process is granted to agriculture.
“Unfortunately, the opposite is the case when it comes to being assessed against ‘sustainable’ development.
“The additional twist of the screw is that fishermen will not receive any form of compensation for the loss of their livelihoods.”
Mr Armstrong said the industry “went looking” for protection in the plan but could not find it.
“Any new plan must take account of existing and traditional rights, while explaining properly any change of regulation or approach,” he said.
In its submission, the Clyde Fishermen’s Association has echoed the SFF’s concerns that marine renewables encouraged by the plan could damage the fishing industry’s future.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “The feedback we have received illustrates the difficult balancing act that has to be achieved, and that is why we will carefully consider all the consultation response before a National Marine Plan is introduced.”
Last night, Lindsay Leaks, senior policy manager at Scottish Renewables, said a vibrant and healthy Scottish fishing industry and the push to decarbonise electricity through offshore renewable energy were not mutually exclusive aims.
“In fact, the need to tackle carbon emissions and abate the dangers associated with climate change are of equal interest to everyone in Scotland, regardless of occupation,” she said.
“While we accept the Scottish Government has to balance a variety of competing interests in the marine planning system, we believe the development of the offshore renewables sectoral plan has been one of the most inclusive, transparent and robust planning processes for any marine sector to date.
“Scottish Renewables will continue to work with the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation through the Fishing Liaison with Offshore Wind and Wet Renewables Group, which only last month produced best-practice guidance.”