Shetland Islands Council will not lose its powers of responsibility for fish farms, MSPs decided this week.
The decision was made at a debate in the Scottish Parliament yesterday to finalise amendments to the Marine Bill legislation.
The Bill, which was introduced in April 2009, included marine planning, licensing and conservation strategies and enforcement, as well as seal conservation laws.
An amendment to section three of the bill, led by Labour MSPs and backed by the Scottish Conservatives, would have seen aquaculture planning included in the remit of Marine Scotland, and not under the power of local authorities. However, the amendment was refused.
Orkney MSP Liam McArthur, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, said: “The Marine Bill will deliver real and lasting benefits for Scotland’s marine environment.
“Important improvements have been made to the legislation, which command support from a wide range of interests, including the renewables sector, the fishing industry and environmental and leisure organisations.
“I am particularly pleased that the attempt by Labour and Tory MSPs to remove responsibility for fish farm licenses from local councils has been defeated.
“In pursuit of administrative neatness, these amendments risked undermining efficiency, local accountability and financial certainty in business planning.
“Moreover, it would have sent entirely the wrong signal about the confidence Parliament has in local councils, many of whom have invested time and resources in developing the specific expertise necessary to deal effectively and efficiently with fish farm planning procedures.”
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott, who has worked with senior SIC members and officials to oppose the proposals, said Shetland had managed the enormous growth of salmon farming, mussel farming and other sea farms over the past 25 years.
He said: “The islands’ ability to take responsibility for these developments, while recognising the environmental impact, has been shown over many years. Our marine industries are vital for the future prosperity of the islands.
“There are already plenty of Scottish-wide bodies such as SEPA and SNH which have a legitimate and central role in considering new and existing fish farm developments. So I cannot see why centralising more powers in Edinburgh with a central government department makes any sense. I am pleased the Scottish Government does not want this change.”
After the vote Mr Scott said: “I was pleased that the minister recognised that the current system is right and that Liberal Democrat and SNP MSPs defeated this centralising move, which the Labour and Conservative parties wanted to impose.”