World Ocean Day : Despite huge marine wealth, Scotland cannot act
This opinion piece was published in The National to mark World Ocean Day on Thursday 8th June 2023.
Scotland’s seas are nearly six times larger than the land area of Scotland and provide our nation with huge potential. So it is fitting that today, on World Ocean Day, we celebrate all that they contribute to our economic, environmental and social wellbeing
Every day, people go to work in often challenging – occasionally dangerous – conditions in our seas to bring us food and energy, to create knowledge or a better marine environment, to take us closer to the abundant flora and fauna that exist in our waters, some of which is unique to Scotland. I thank them all for all that they do, not just on World Ocean Day, but every day.
By using our powers where we can, devolution has delivered tangible economic, social and environmental benefits for our nation and especially our island and coastal communities. Our seafood sector accounted for 60% of Scotland’s food exports in 2021 and we have the third largest salmon aquaculture sector in the world, with 75% of the sector’s supply chain based here in Scotland, creating additional jobs and businesses.
We also have a strong track record in protecting our marine environment, with 37% of our seas already designated as marine protected areas, and we are taking a global leadership role on blue carbon research and knowledge exchange.
However, we know that our marine environment and natural resources are under pressure like never before. The twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss are impacting on the health of our oceans worldwide – a fact also being acknowledged today.
I know that Scotland’s fishing and seafood industry values a healthy marine environment as much as the Scottish Government does. More than any of us, they understand the importance of protecting and enhancing our marine environment, not least for the benefit of future generations.
And today, I want to assure our fishing industry that there will continue to be space for fishing to operate in Scotland’s waters in a sustainable and responsible way, now and in the future.
Our seas are also under threat in a political sense. Westminster has shown itself to be utterly dismissive of Scotland’s unique needs and willing to take actions that hurt our blue economy.
Scotland – our marine industries, and island and coastal communities especially – is being harmed by Brexit through trade barriers, reduced access to labour and, for some, fewer fishing opportunities than under the Common Fisheries Policy.
That Scotland, with almost two thirds of the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone (the area of the sea where coastal countries have exclusive sovereign rights and duties), cannot negotiate for its own interests diminishes our influence in Europe and the world.
We cannot afford to be bystanders hoping that others will take the right decisions for us, watching on as our marine interests and coastal communities are put at risk.
With independence, Scotland would be able to apply to join the EU, giving Scottish seafood exporters unrestricted access to the world’s biggest single market and allowing businesses, communities and our science sector to once again benefit from freedom of movement within the EU.
Independence would allow us to champion Scotland’s interests at the heart of the EU: based on the size and strength of our marine sector, Scotland could expect to have significant influence. We would be able to negotiate a fair share of funding to invest in our seafood industry, our coastal communities and our marine science sector, prioritising our marine interests instead of watching them be diluted by wider UK objectives.
Independence would give us a voice on the world stage and the ability to join international bodies in our own right, enabling us to work with like-minded nations to tackle shared challenges that do not respect national boundaries.
To meet the challenges we face, Scotland must have a voice on the issues and laws that affect our communities. Decisions should be made by those with the greatest stake in them and those who will be most affected by them – the people of Scotland.
Scotland is a proud marine and maritime nation. Our seas, coasts and islands have shaped our identity, our culture and our way of life. Our blue economy continues to underpin our coastal and island communities.
The opportunities for Scotland’s marine sector are great, but we can only fully realise that potential with the full powers of independence.
Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands