Humza Yousaf and Douglas Ross clashed during First Minister’s Questions over the Scottish government’s controversial marine plans.
Proposals have been put forward to create highly protected marine areas (HPMAs) in at least 10% of Scotland’s waters.
The first minister and Net Zero Secretary Mairi McAllan have previously said that such zones will not be implemented in communities that do not want them.
During FMQs on Thursday, Scottish Tory leader Mr Ross branded the plans “reckless” as they would “ban fishing in large parts of Scotland’s seas”.
He added: “They would risk thousands of jobs. They would be devastating to coastal communities.
“The first minister has said his government will not impose highly protected marine areas on any community that’s vehemently opposed to them.
“So quite simply, can he define what he means in this case by community and what level of opposition will be considered vehemently opposed?”
Image: Humza Yousaf during FMQs on Thursday Mr Yousaf noted that the Scottish Conservatives had previously pledged to pilot the introduction of HPMAs in a manifesto.
Reiterating previous statements, the first minister said: “What we have made absolutely clear is that this government will not impose HPMAs on any community that vehemently opposes them.”
Mr Yousaf explained that a consultation had taken place and responses were being analysed.
He vowed that the Scottish government would continue to engage with all the communities involved.
Mr Yousaf added: “It would be completely wrong of us to pre-empt what consent mechanism we end up putting in place or setting the parameters here today. That would, of course, risk excluding some voices that should be heard.”
The first minister added that he would not apologise for taking action to tackle the twin crises of the climate emergency and biodiversity loss.
He said: “What I think we should all absolutely agree on is the fact that we have to take action to make sure our marine environment is sustainable for the future.
“What is not going to help our fishing communities is, of course, if that marine environment is not sustainable.
“We want to ensure it is so that the future of our fishing industry can continue for many, many years. And I am absolutely committed to doing that – not to the communities involved but hopefully with the communities involved.”
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A number of SNP MSPs have voiced their concern over the proposals.
Former ministers Kate Forbes, Fergus Ewing and Alasdair Allan have all raised issues, with Mr Ewing dramatically tearing up the government consultation during a Holyrood debate on Tuesday.
All three voted against a motion supporting the proposals in a subsequent debate on Wednesday, while other SNP representatives abstained in the vote.
Image: Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross during FMQs Following FMQs, Mr Ross said: “Humza Yousaf is out-of-touch with coastal communities and he’s even out of touch with many members of his own party.
“It took eight years for Nicola Sturgeon to face a major SNP rebellion. It’s taken Humza Yousaf less than eight weeks.
“He’s losing his grip on his own party because he insists on pursuing an extreme policy that’s opposed by the very communities he wants to impose it on.
“Instead of arrogantly dismissing valid concerns, Humza Yousaf should do the right thing and scrap these anti-fishing plans.”