Coastal Communities

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 3rd February 2022.

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Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

I thank Ariane Burgess for lodging her motion and providing this welcome opportunity to discuss the challenges and the opportunities that there are for our coastal communities.

I have the privilege of representing the south of Scotland and its many stunning coastal towns and villages including Loch Ryan. As we have heard, Loch Ryan is home to Scotland’s only remaining natural oyster beds. I make no apology for giving yet another plug to the annual Stranraer oyster festival. Sadly, it has been missing for the past three years, but I hope that it will return in 2022.

Many of our coastal communities are under threat from the climate and nature emergencies that we face. The recent storms hit many of those communities hard and exposed their fragility. The research from the Government’s dynamic coast project was stark. Rising sea levels and coastal erosion will put £1.2 billion-worth of Scotland’s infrastructure at risk by 2050. At least £20 billion-worth of assets—road, rail and residential properties—lie within 50m of our coast. Crucially, nature protects some £14.5 billion-worth of those assets, with the research highlighting that natural defences such as sand dunes protect three times the value of roads, railways and buildings that sea walls protect. Investment in that nature-based solution is therefore essential.

We should not fall into the trap of not recognising that supporting and investing in other forms of coastal defences is hugely important to those communities. I have seen the work of organisations such as the Carsethorn Community Development Group on the Solway coast, which carried out a remarkable rescue job to give residents peace of mind by building new rock sea defences after years of storm damage had eroded the coastline and put homes at risk.

As the motion highlights, it is often the communities themselves that are at the heart of the work to protect coastal towns and villages, whether through natural defences or otherwise. I add my thanks for the work of the Coastal Communities Network and its 19 community groups across Scotland, including the Berwickshire Marine Reserve in the South Scotland region. That community-led voluntary organisation has taken part in collaborative research projects with the Blue Marine Foundation and has developed a virtual visitor centre to encourage sustainability, engagement and inclusivity.

The Berwickshire Marine Reserve sits in a protected area, which means that fishers cannot use towed gear, trawls, dredgers or nets to catch fish, ensuring that there is minimum damage to other marine life. The group works closely with local fishers to promote sustainability and responsible fishing. It is an example of how community-led conservation can help to protect local biodiversity, while working alongside the promotion of a commercial, sustainable fishing industry that has played such an important role in shaping the community over the decades.

We need to do an awful lot more to promote sustainable fishing. It is an area on which the recent SNP-Green coalition agreement does not go far enough. The agreement does not say anything about ending overfishing or incentivising sustainable fishing. It says nothing about the wasteful practice of discarding. Overfishing and discarding have both resulted in declining fish populations and fishing jobs, and they are at odds with the rising demand for sustainable sea food. There is also no mention of reforming quota so that marine and fish resources are no longer in the hands of a few individuals and companies but are instead reformed and given to those who can best deliver the environmental, economic and social outcomes that we want to see.

The Scottish Government did not take up the opportunity to deliver a Scottish fisheries act, which would have allowed Scotland more control over the framework for negotiations, and has instead opted to rely on the UK Fisheries Act 2020. Even so, the decisions on fisheries management in Scotland still rest with the Scottish ministers. It is the Scottish Government’s responsibility to provide the foundations that are needed for the fishing industry to operate sustainably and in a way that meets its fullest potential. Achieving that is a crucial part of protecting and preserving our precious marine environment and promoting the sustainable economic future that we all want for our coastal communities.