Humza Yousaf has been accused of “losing his grip” on the SNP after several of his MSPs voted against plans to introduce Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) to Scotland.
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said while it took former first minister Nicola Sturgeon eight years in office to have her first major rebellion, it took Yousaf less than eight weeks.
On Wednesday, six SNP MSPs rebelled against a Scottish Government motion in support of imposing HPMAs in 10% of Scottish waters.
The policy would mean no fishing activities in those areas would be allowed.
Three former ministers – Alasdair Allan, Fergus Ewing and Kate Forbes – all voted against the proposals.
Meanwhile, Annabelle Ewing, Christine Grahame and Ash Regan abstained.
Proponents say the plans will protect the environment and prevent overfishing.
Scottish Green MSP Lorna Slater, whose party supports the scheme, said HPMAs have been shown to work across the world, and will help fishing communities in the long term.
But speaking during FMQs on Thursday, Ross claimed HPMAs would “devastate” rural communities, which he said do not support them.
“He should be worried about the response from his own backbenches, the rebellion that we’ve already seen.
“Humza Yousaf was speaking about the response from the Scottish Conservatives,” he said.
“It took Nicola Sturgeon eight years to have her first major rebellion within the SNP ranks.
“It’s taken Humza Yousaf less than eight weeks to achieve the same.
“He’s clearly losing his grip on his party because he insists on pursuing these extreme policies that are opposed by the very communities he wants to impose them on.
“These reckless plans would ban fishing across much of our sea, it would put thousands of jobs at risk and it would devastate coastal, rural and fishing areas.”
Yousaf pointed to the Scottish Conservative Party’s 2021 manifesto, which promised to introduce a pilot on HPMAs.
The SNP leader said protection areas will not be imposed on communities which do not want them.
The First Minister accused Ross of losing his grip on his own party.
He said: “The Conservatives have had the longest attempted coup in Scottish political history, why doesn’t Jamie Greene or Liam Kerr stand up and put Douglas Ross out of his misery?”
Yousaf said Ross had “lost faith in his own political party” and “spent the entire Easter recess urging people to vote for the Scottish Labour Party”, alluding to statements from the Tory leader about tactical voting which were subsequently rowed back.