SHETLAND Islands Council’s development committee has given its approval for a Sullom Voe masterplan which could potentially lift the blanket ban on aquaculture in the harbour area.
The exclusion has been in force for navigational safety reasons, but it is no longer required in the outer areas of the oil port due to the reduced tanker traffic.
A marine development masterplan has now been proposed as a result of this and it will examine whether the area can be opened up to new users.
A report on the potential masterplan will be passed through the council’s environment and transport committee and harbour board this week before being heard by the policy and resources committee on 30 April.
Chairman Alastair Cooper told members of the development committee on Monday that such a masterplan could inform similar work in other areas of Shetland.
“We’re embarking on a journey here, rather than a one stop-shop,” he noted.
Ports and harbours manager John Smith said the Sullom Voe harbour area was a “very significant asset”, while Shetland south councillor Allison Duncan questioned how many potential jobs could be created through new aquaculture developments.
There has been continued commercial interest from aquaculture companies in the area, while other potential future uses include marine renewables as well as further fishing, leisure and oil and gas interests.
Speaking after the meeting, Cooper said factors like the environment and the requirements of the oil industry need to be taken into account when looking at the masterplan.
“We need to ensure that we leave sufficient provision for the oil industry going forward in whatever way they may want to use the water at Sullom Voe,” he said.
“We need to be sure that the waters of Sullom Voe remain clean environmentally. We’ve been monitoring it for the last 40 years and we have a very, very good database of the cleanliness of the waters of Sullom Voe. We don’t want that to be aggravated in any way.
“We have a marine resource in terms of the tidal flow, we have areas where maybe the aquaculture industry could operate. We have areas I think we need we keep for the oil industry’s ambition.”
He said a masterplan would “take all of these things into consideration, and it is possible that at the end of that exercise we say that we are not going to open up Sullom Voe for any activity other than that which it is at the moment”.
“At the moment you have shellfish activity, you have the oil industry, you have transport,” he added.
“It may be that we say yes, areas can be opened up. We’re at the point now where I think we have to have that debate and we need to have that understanding.”
The Sullom Voe harbour area includes the majority of Yell Sound, while it also contains the piers and harbours at Collafirth, Toft and Ulsta as well as the waters up to the head of Sullom Voe at Mavis Grind.