1. The Scottish Government has proposed creating a permanent Marine Protected Area (MPA) within the Inner Sound of Skye by Red Rocks and Longay. The area was urgently designated as an MPA in 2021, following identification of a flapper skate nursery. Flapper skate are a critically endangered species, and the conservation objectives for the proposed permanent MPA are the protection of flapper skate eggs and the Quaternary of Scotland geodiversity feature that provides essential habitat for flapper skate egg-laying.
2. A consultation launched via the Scottish Governments consultation hub was carried out between February and April 2022 seeking views on the proposed MPA and the associated management measures for the site. The main findings from an analysis of the responses to the consultation are summarised here.
3. The consultation received 63 responses. Following (i) the removal of duplicates and (ii) the combining of multiple responses from a single respondent, the analysis was based on 61 responses – 41 from individuals and 17 from organisations (13 environmental organisations and 4 fishing organisations).
- Almost all respondents (57 out of 61) supported the designation of Red Rocks and Longay as a permanent MPA. All the organisational respondents indicated support.
- Almost all respondents (55 out of 60) agreed that the scientific evidence presented supports and justifies the case for the designation of the site as an MPA. Organisations were unanimous in their views on this issue.
- A majority of respondents (48 out of 60) agreed with the list of proposed protected features. Amongst the organisational respondents, all the fishing organisations (4) indicated agreement, compared to 8 out of 13 environmental organisations.
- The majority of respondents (38 out of 58) agreed with the list of prohibited activities included in the draft Marine Conservation Order (MCO) for the proposed MPA. However, while four-fifths of individuals (34 out of 43) agreed, two-thirds of organisations (10 out of 15) disagreed. Those disagreeing included all three of the fishing organisations (two representing the mobile fishing industry and one representing the static fishing industry) that answered this question.
4. Key points and recurring themes in the consultation responses included the following:
- In general, both organisations and individuals supported the designation of Red Rocks and Longay as a permanent MPA and endorsed the proposed protected features. Respondents highlighted the critically endangered status of the flapper skate species, the importance of the site and its geology as a breeding ground for flapper skate, the uniqueness of the site in Scotland's waters, and the wider benefits that designation offered to the marine environment.
- For the most part, respondents thought the establishment of a permanent MPA was 'proportionate', and that the restrictions on some activities were justified by the long-term environmental benefits to be gained. However, some respondents (including fishing organisations) expressed concerns about the proposed impact of the management measures for the MPA on the local creel fishing industry.
- Respondents generally thought that the scientific evidence presented provided a robust case for the creation of the MPA. However, some (environmental organisations and individuals) thought the evidence indicated a need for protection to be extended to additional geological features and to areas beyond the proposed MPA boundary.
- In just a few cases, respondents (all individuals) disputed the evidence, and argued that flapper skate as a species were not in need of protection and that the MPA was therefore not justified.
- Comments on NatureScot's conservation and management advice and the related list of prohibited activities included in the draft MCO mainly focused on two activities: fishing and diving:
- Fishing: There was broad support for NatureScot's advice related to fishing activities in the MPA area. However, there was a common view that the inclusion of creel fishing on the list of prohibited activities in the MCO did not reflect NatureScot's advice and was not justified on scientific grounds. Respondents suggested that creeling could be pursued safely in limited circumstances and that a compromise position could be reached on this in consultation with stakeholders. Additionally, some respondents (particularly environmental organisations and individuals) thought further restrictions on mobile fishing were merited beyond the MPA boundary in order to fully protect the flapper skate population.
- Diving: Although most respondents were content with the advice that diving would not significantly affect the protected features there was some disagreement with this position and calls for diving activities to be prohibited or subject to greater regulation because of the potential risks presented.
- Comments on the partial Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment and the partial Island Communities Impact Assessment accompanying the consultation paper were often general in nature; those that were more specific focused on the perceived lack of consultation on the proposal, or called for more detailed consideration of the various potential impacts of the creation of the MPA (both positive and negative), including for the fishing industry.
- Across the consultation questions, respondents made a number of more general points related to the proposed MPA. Key amongst these were calls for:
- Further research and monitoring in relation to the lifecycle and behaviour of juvenile and adult flapper skate; the presence of other flapper skate nurseries in other areas; the presence of other marine features in need of protection; the impact of different activities, including those displaced as a result of management measures; and the impact of MPA status and related management measures.
- More consultation to allow the views of all stakeholders to influence the development of measures acceptable to all parties.
- Monitoring and enforcement of MPA management measures put in place.
- Respondents also commonly called for further development of Scotland's MPA network in an ecologically coherent way, a move away from over-fishing, a transition towards low-impact fishing, and a more holistic spatial approach to marine and fisheries management.
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