A new era for the waters around Shetland’s rugged coastline came a step closer on Thursday when the Marine Bill passed its first parliamentary stage.
The Scottish Government also announced it was to have new responsibilities for safeguarding the health of all Scottish waters out to 200 nautical miles in implementing new European regulations, in addition to an earlier decision to give Scotland responsibility for marine planning out to 200 miles.
Shetland plays an important role in Scottish seas, which according to statistics generate industry worth around £22 billion (including oil and gas); provide 50,000 jobs (excluding oil and gas); support 6,500 species of plants and animals; and hold a quarter of Europe’s total tidal and offshore wind resource and 10 per cent of its potential in wave power.
Environment minister Richard Lochhead said: “Scotland has a long and proud history as a maritime nation and is shaped and defined by its waters. We have one of Europe’s biggest coastlines and our seas are rich in fish stocks, have the potential to power the world and generate billions of pounds for the Scottish economy.
“Today’s vote and the announcement that we are to have additional responsibilities extending out to 200 nautical miles represent a huge step towards a sustainable and economically-viable future for our marine environment.”
The Bill, which seeks to protect Scotland’s marine environment for future generations, will now return to the rural affairs and environment committee for more detailed scrutiny. An amendment will be introduced at that stage to add climate change objectives to the new national marine plan to help Scotland meet its world-leading emission targets.
Mr Lochhead said: “We owe it to future generations to ensure our seas are managed and harvested sustainably. Economic growth is vital but it should be balanced with protection for our stunning marine environment.
“Our waters are home to some of the most spectacular wildlife and marine habitats on the planet, with 44,000 species and almost half of the world’s entire population of grey seals. They also make a huge contribution to the economy through industries such as fishing. The measures contained in our new Marine Bill will help find the right balance and ensure our environment prospers for decades to come.
“Marine renewables are a powerful weapon in our fight against climate change but progress on this front must be achieved alongside environmental safeguards. This legislation gives Scotland the powers and flexibility to manage our seas and meet these challenges head on.”