The Scottish Greens have “sold out to the devil” by failing to prevent fishing trawlers from damaging the seabed around Scotland, creel fishermen have claimed.
The party has also come under attack from campaigners for not addressing the “dire condition” of fish stocks in its draft power-sharing agreement with the Scottish National Party (SNP).
The agreement is due to be voted on by Green party members at a special conference on 28 August. A party spokesperson said the deal with the SNP was “transformative” but understood there may be “disappointment” that all its manifesto commitments were not being delivered.
On 20 August the Greens and the SNP leadership agreed a draft shared policy programme, which both parties have presented as a compromise. It allows for disagreements on some issues, and is expected to enable Green co-leaders, MSPs Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater, to become ministers.
The agreement promises to protect 10 per cent of Scotland’s seas from trawling and dredging by 2026 and to cap fishing at current levels within three nautical miles of the coast. “We are determined to make a step change in marine protection,” it says.
But the deal does not include the 2021 Green manifesto commitment to “exclude dredging and trawling from much of our inshore waters”. Nor does it mention the “mandatory catch limits” promised by the Greens.
The deal has “bitterly disappointed” Alistair Sinclair, national co-ordinator of the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation. Thousands of citizens were now concerned about “Green pretenders”, he claimed.
“They have sold out to the devil for minor positions in a government that they will have no influence within, other than to kick the issues into the long grass,” he told The Ferret.
Creel boats compete with trawlers to catch prawns around the coast. Creelers lay pots on the seabed, while trawlers drag weighted nets across the seabed.
Bally Philip, a creel fishermen and deputy chairman of the North West Responsible Fishing Association, accused the Greens of having “neutered themselves”. They could no longer advocate alternative policies, he claimed.
“It would appear a little taste of power and all their principles regarding inshore fishing and ecosystem recovery via a transition to low impact fisheries go out the window,” he said.
The campaign group, Open Seas, has criticised the Greens for allowing a “serious roll-back” of its manifesto commitments on fishing. “The deal delivers little beyond pre-existing policy and actually delays some environmental protections already planned,” said a statement on its website.
“It fails to set objectives to ensure fishing is sustainable, incentivise change or end ongoing damage to Scotland’s marine environment. It rolls back on the Scottish Green Party’s manifesto commitment to reform Scotland’s fishing industry and make it sustainable.”
The group feared that plans to protect 10 per cent of Scotland’s seas and to cap inshore fishing could be undermined. “There is a risk that these will be perverted and end up as rubber stamping exercises,” it warned.
Open Seas rejected the suggestion the deal was a “step change” in marine protection. “It’s essential the Greens exert their new power in administration to actually drive real change if they are not to be judged in same light as previous governments,” the group said.
The Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST), which promotes marine conservation, also expressed disappointment. “The Greens in particular had a real opportunity here to promote more sustainable community-based fishing such as creeling which they seem to have missed,” said the group’s director, Andrew Binnie.
“It’s early days but Marine Scotland apparatchiks seem once again to have succeeded in stifling real change and we are left with the sense that the Scottish Government only acts in the interests of the mobile fishing sector to the detriment of our marine life and coastal communities.”
Scottish Environment Link, which brings together 42 environmental groups, “warmly welcomed” the commitment for new protected areas covering 10 per cent of Scotland’s seas. The fishing cap was a “small step forward”, but the group would have preferred a “more ambitious approach” towards curbing damaging trawling and dredging.
The Scottish Greens described the agreement with the SNP as “a transformative programme for Scotland that will make tackling the climate and nature emergencies a priority”. The party recognised the “urgent need” to make progress protecting the marine environment.
“We are confident that what we have negotiated in the cooperation agreement will kick-start this process,” a party spokesperson told The Ferret.
“We understand the disappointment from some groups that the entirety of the Green manifesto is not being delivered. However, this an agreement between two different parties, and it reflects the outcome of the election in May.”
The new network for 10 per cent of Scotland’s seas “would be real protected areas where dredging, trawling and fishing is prohibited,” the spokesperson added. “They will have a huge impact on restoring our marine environment, including in our inshore waters.”
Cover image thanks to iStock/NORRIE3699.