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  • Rosanna Crawford

A Just Transition includes fishing communities too

Highly Protected Marine Areas

Scottish Government have committed to designating 10% of Scotland’s seas as ‘Highly Protected Marine Areas’ (HPMAs) by 2026. This commitment recognises the biological diversity of Scotland’s seas and the need to manage them sustainably in the face of the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. A consultation on the HPMA policy framework closed on 17 April 2023, with the framework setting out definitions, aims and activity restrictions. HPMAs aim to:


  • Facilitate ecosystem recovery and enhancement.

  • Enhance the benefits that coastal communities and others derive from our seas

  • Contribute to the mitigation of climate change impacts

  • Support ecosystem adaptation and improving resilience

These are laudable aims, and the policy framework states this will be achieved by restricting almost all ‘human activity’ in the area, with the exception of some recreational activities like swimming, snorkelling and windsurfing. Crucially however, the policy framework restricts any commercial fishing, aquaculture or seaweed harvesting.

There has consequently been a strong backlash to the proposals from island communities, many of whom depend on fishing for their livelihoods. A key criticism has been the lack of engagement from government with fishermen – Highland Councillor John Finlayson expressed his disappointment that the consultation was not more widely advertised when it was launched in December 2022.

Another criticism is the lack of consideration for communities that rely on fishing as a key source of employment. Sound of Harris Shellfish put together a Twitter thread outlining what an HPMA in their area would mean for them – 11 of the 20 school children in Leverburgh would have parents losing their jobs.

This is an emotional subject for communities who often feel their needs aren’t taken seriously at Holyrood. Constant delays over the A9 dualling and consistent trouble with CalMac ferries have further compounded this impression in past months.

Scotland’s Just Transition

The Scottish Government have committed to a Just Transition and their Just Transition webpage acknowledges that:

“The transition to net zero will impact our whole economy and necessitate an economic transformation. Our actions to ensure fairness will be integral to securing and maintaining support for the scale and pace of change required”.

Although this implies a holistic approach to climate action in Scotland, it seems the focus on a Just Transition to Net Zero is excluding its application to other relevant policy areas – including the recent HPMA policy framework.

Although the policy framework promises to account for social-economic factors in HPMAs, there is almost no detail included in the framework regarding these factors beyond a partial BRIA (business and regulatory impact) assessment. The BRIA notes that ‘it is recognised that these costs [of HPMA introduction] could potentially be large for some sectors and possibly larger than some of the quantified costs’. The lack of specificity or plans to support those who could lose their jobs serves to alienate the people crucial to the success of the policy – those living around ocean ecosystems.


A Just Transition approach to introducing HPMAs would require a co-design process with affected communities. We would suggest:

  • As a headline action, nature and biodiversity need to be incorporated into the Just Transition policy remit.

  • Communities should be engaged from the beginning of scoping and planning the policy, using the co-design planning process outlined in the National Just Transition Planning Framework, as opposed to requesting feedback through time-consuming online forms.

  • Specific industries are not demonised or stigmatised but rather constructively engaged.

  • Finally, a Just Transition Working Group and Delivery Unit format is adopted in specific affected regions. This has been successfully utilised in Western Australia to deliver a local transition away from coal. We will publish a report on this case study in June.

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