By LOUISE THOMASON
Following calls from environmental groups, the marine industry and coastal communities for more effective management of Scotland’s seas, Scotland’s first Marine Bill has been introduced.
Aimed at boosting the economy while improving conservation measures, the Bill was announced in the Scottish Parliament last Thursday.
Key features include a new planning framework to promote the management of the seas in a range of contexts, such as energy, fishing, aquaculture and recreation. It will also promote a stable environment for investment.
A strong local voice, through the inclusion of local agencies, communities and stakeholders, will be promoted through new Marine Planning Partnerships and there will be a focus on reducing administrative burdens and costs by streamlining the licence system.
Finally, the conservation of marine and historic sites will be improved to safeguard and protect Scotland’s unique habitats, wildlife and marine archaeology and wrecks, and there will be improved protection for seals under improved seal management regulation.
Speaking at Edinburgh’s Newhaven Harbour last Thursday, rural affairs and environment minister Richard Lochhead said: “Today marks an exciting milestone. Our seas support tens of thousands of jobs, generate billions of pounds for our economy, put food on our tables and are set to play an increasing role in powering our nation through wind and wave power.
“We are introducing the framework to help deliver a new future for Scotland’s seas. Our Marine Bill aims to maximise economic growth while ensuring future generations can still enjoy this world class environment.
“We have listened and are now responding to demand for change by delivering a Bill that will make the most of Scotland’s unique coastal and marine environment without spoiling one of our most prized treasures. It will create a simpler regulatory system for the marine environment and allow greater local participation in marine and coastal matters.
“Scotland holds a quarter of Europe’s total tidal and offshore wind resource and 10 per cent of its potential in wave power. Our seas generate more than £2.2 billion for the Scottish economy.
“We have huge potential to increase economic growth from our seas but need to do so in a sustainable way. We need to remember that Scotland is also a leading marine tourism destination and any changes should not be at the environment’s expense.
“Striking the right balance between the long-term viability and growth of our marine industries and the enhanced protection of our special marine environment is at the very heart of our Bill.
“We are repealing the existing seals’ legislation – which is 40 years old – and introducing a ban on the shooting of seals except within a well-managed licence system.
“The Bill also maps out the way forward on Scottish Marine Regions, providing a way for local interests to have a say over their local seas. The consultation showed strong support for this proposal, but we must ensure that we are not creating an additional layer of bureaucracy. “ Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) chief executive Ian Jardine described it as a very important day for Scotland’s seas.
He said: “The Bill provides the opportunity to improve and streamline marine management, safeguard Scotland’s famed marine wildlife and ensure our seas are healthy and productive for the future. SNH has been supporting the Scottish Government in developing the proposals.
“We look forward to working closely with Marine Scotland to progress the valuable actions proposed in the Bill and to deliver the management changes our seas and marine users urgently require.”
Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong stressed that as an essential part of Scotland’s economy, the fishing industry must be given priority.
He said: “The Scottish Marine Bill is an automatic consequence of European directives and the further forward UK Marine Bill; its introduction is inevitable. The broad overall objectives are entirely supported but the Bill and its supporting regulation will present both opportunities and threats for the fishing industry.
“It is absolutely essential that fishing has a proper place in marine planning with the primary objectives of ensuring a profitable, sustainable industry that makes the best of a valuable and renewable resource off our coasts. “If this is properly recognised in the legislation, then a good opportunity will not have been missed. Scottish fishermen have been at the forefront of ensuring that our fisheries are sustainable and well managed – in other words acting as a responsible stakeholder.
“Balance will be the keyword for all stakeholder interests and the government. It is vital that the Bill avoids the pitfall of paying disproportionate attention to the high profile issues of environmental protection and offshore renewable energy – both are welcome and desirable, but proper recognition must always be given to fishing and the vital economic role it plays.”