Page last updated at 19:25 GMT, Thursday, 4 February 2010

Bill to protect Scottish sea life passed

The bill will see tougher penalties to protect Scotland's seals

Legislation designed to protect Scotland's marine wildlife while allowing development of the offshore renewable industry has been passed.

The Marine Bill includes measures which will see a crackdown on the shooting of seals.

A national marine plan will also be developed to help encourage investment.

Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead described the bill as a "momentous" day for Scotland's marine environment. The bill was passed unanimously by MSPs.

Mr Lochhead said: "Scotland's history is closely connected to the sea and our spectacular resource-rich waters have helped shape our nation.

"Our first Marine Bill marks the beginning of a new era for our seas."

'Last resort'

MSPs earlier backed a Labour amendment to ensure seals could only be culled as a "last resort".

Some fishermen have claimed seal populations have grown "out of balance" with the marine environment.

Harassing seals in known "haul-out" areas where they rest on land will also become an offence, with further restrictions on the killing of pregnant seals also backed.

Green Party attempts to set an effective seven-month close season on two species were rejected.

The bill will also introduce a simpler licensing system to encourage investment and new powers to select and manage Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Bertie Armstrong, the Scottish Fishermen's Federation chief executive, said: "There must be full consultation with the fishing industry with regards to the introduction of marine conservation zones so as to safeguard traditional fishing grounds that many coastal communities depend upon.

"Sustainable fishing is by no means incompatible with the needs of the marine environment - the Scottish industry works every day to demonstrate that."

It is estimated Scotland's seas generate industry worth about £2.2bn to the Scottish economy, excluding oil and gas, and provide 50,000 jobs, as well as holding a quarter of Europe's total tidal and offshore wind resource.

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