The Scottish Government has shelved its controversial plans to designate one-tenth of Scottish waters as highly protected marine areas (HPMAs) and will go back to the drawing board.

SNP Net Zero Secretary Mairi McAllan confirmed to MSPs in a statement on the last day of term at Holyrood, that the policy to designate 10% of waters by 2026, is no longer being pursued by the government.

She told Holyrood that "while we remain firmly committed to the outcome of enhanced marine protection, the proposal as consulted on will not be progressed".

Ms McAllan said there has been “considerable debate” over the issue and insisted there has been “constructive engagement with the Green group”, with who the policy was a key power-sharing deal.

The Greens said they were "pleased" by Ms McAllan's announcement. 

Under the Bute House Agreement, which sealed a co-operation deal between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Greens, a commitment was made to "add to the existing MPA network by designating a world-leading suite of highly protected marine areas (HPMAs) covering at least 10% of our seas".

The pledge also points to the plans including "designations in both offshore and inshore waters", despite offshore waters needing the permission of the UK Government.

It is understood the U-turn has been made in collaboration with the Scottish Greens amid an acknowledgment over the anger surrounding the proposals. 

Ms McAllan said: "Highly protected marine areas are of course part of the Bute House Agreement and I welcome the constructive engagement I have had from the Green group as we have developed our thinking on this critical issue."

Ms McAllan claimed that she has “listened intently” to those concerns, stressing she has “no doubt of the strong views both for and against” the HPMAs.

She stressed that “doing nothing is not an option”, given the importance of protecting marine areas and insisted the Scottish Government is still committed to measures.

She added: “I recognise the scale of what HMPAs represent.

“We are at the drawing board on this issue.”

Ms McAllan told MSPs that there has been fears on both sides of the debate over the timeframe to roll the policy.

She said: "A particular concern raised with me by those who support HPMA and those who don’t, is that implementation of the proposal, in the proposed timeframe could limit our aspirations for genuine collaboration with communities, which is integral to Scotland’s approach to a fair and just transition.

"Therefore, while for the reasons I have stated we remain firmly committed to the outcome of enhancing marine protection, I can confirm today that the proposal as consulted on will not be progressed.

"This means we will no longer seek to implement HPMAs across 10% of Scotland’s seas by 2026."

Scottish Greens coastal communities spokesperson Ariane Burgess said:  “The Scottish Greens have championed community involvement from the outset, they need to be at the heart of what we do next, which is why we are pleased the minister has not only recommitted to marine protections, but committed to community-led input. 

“But it also recognises that we must do something to prevent damage and exploitation of our seas by striking a balance, something that seems to have been lost on opposition parties who have tried to weaponise the nature emergency.

“I hope all those I’ve been having discussions with in my region, and all those at the heart of our coastal communities, will take heart and hope from today’s announcement that they build on the golden opportunity being presented.”

Scottish Conservative shadow rural affairs secretary Rachael Hamilton, said: “The SNP might have rebranded their reckless plans on Highly Protected Marine Areas, but in reality this amounts to little more than kicking the can down the road.

“Never have I experienced a policy that has received such overwhelming opposition from coastal communities, and Scotland’s fishermen must now be at the heart of any proposals brought forward.

“As much as the SNP try to spin, ministers still remain wedded to enhancing marine protection in a further 10% of our seas, just a few years later than their initial plans outlined."

She added: “SNP-Green ministers have caused huge stress in recent months in our coastal communities – and that must never happen again.

“While this statement gives them some breathing space, we need to see those who will be affected dictate these new plans. The fact that the Greens have welcomed this move suggests it will be their anti-fishing tune that the SNP will be dancing to.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat rural affairs spokesperson, Beatrice Wishart, said: “This is testament to the power and voice of rural and remote communities who were united in their opposition.

"They were incensed by the way the SNP and Greens were determined to impose rigid and damaging policies and failed to listen from the outset.

“It was clear from the start that this was pursued to appease the Bute House agreement and little do with the sustainability of either the seas or the communities who live and work in them."

She added: “There will be a sigh of relief that the government has finally accepted that it got this badly wrong.

“Communities will need assurances that future policy doesn’t make the same mistakes, is led by scientific evidence, meaningful engagement and a proper understanding of all the factors that go into making our communities and fisheries sustainable.”