A Blue Economy Vision for Scotland

Sets out our long-term ambition for Scotland’s blue economy to 2045. It demonstrates how much we value our marine environment and its significance. This is captured in six outcomes sitting across a range of environmental, social and economic ambitions.

4. Scotland’s Blue Economy

It is important to establish what is included in Scotland’s blue economy in the context of this vision. The term ‘blue economy’ has been used in different ways to describe the various aspects that make up a country’s marine environment and sectors.

Scotland’s blue economy includes the marine, coastal and the inter-linked freshwater environment of Scotland, the different marine and maritime sectors it supports, and the people connected to it. It also encapsulates the legislation, policies, programmes and international commitments that determine its management, as well as the under-pinning scientific research that provides data and information for evidence-informed policy development and is used to evaluate our success.

Together, these environmental, social, economic, scientific and political components make up Scotland’s valuable and vibrant blue economy.

Defining Scotland’s blue economy in this broad sense illustrates that it includes a range of interconnected policies and activities. As the blue economy vision is developed into an action plan, we will set out the pathways in which these various policies, programmes and activities can help to deliver our blue economy outcomes.

Figure 2 Scotland’s Blue Economy

  • Freshwater fisheries
  • Fish processing
  • Environmental protection
  • Social attitudes to the sea
  • Skills and Training
  • Oil and gas
  • Marine renewables
  • Ports
  • Production of oxygen
  • Aquaculture
  • Sea fisheries
  • Marine biotechnology
  • Marine science
  • Ship building and repair
  • Harbours
  • Blue carbon
  • Marine business services
  • Transport
  • Health and well being
  • Coastal tourism
  • Coastal defence/protection
  • Marine protected areas
  • Sustainable food
  • Offshore wind
  • Seaweed harvesting

4.1 Why do we want to implement a Blue Economy approach in Scotland?

There is growing recognition, globally, of the importance of the marine environment to the health of the world. Collectively, we need to manage marine resources sustainably and take co-ordinated action at pace to drive forward transformative change. Scotland’s industrial past is a source of pride but also a real cause for reflection, in terms of the legacy of impacts. We understand the severity and urgency of the situation in Scotland. Scotland has seen a dramatic decline in its biodiversity and there are significant pressures from human activities that need to be managed.

The science suggests that the world may be approaching a tipping point for nature and for the climate, with warnings from the latest IPCC report as being “code red for humanity”. The rationale is clear - more can and must be done, building on current positive actions to benefit nature, people and our economy. Furthermore, given the interdependencies of nature, people and our economy, decision making needs to be done in a managed and balanced way.

The drivers for action for the Scottish Government to implement a blue economy approach are set out below (Figure 3). These drivers support a renewed focus on Scotland’s blue economy.

Figure 3 Blue Economy Drivers

1. Global climate change emergency There is growing evidence of the impact of climate change on the marine environment, including on the ocean’s ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Changes already detected in Scotland include ocean warming, oxygen reduction, sea level rise and ocean acidification.

2. Nature Crisis Threats to Scotland’s natural capital from biodiversity loss. Scotland has one of the lowest biodiversity intactness indexes globally and is seeing a dramatic decline in its biodiversity. 11 out of 15 indicators of Good Environmental Status in Scotland’s marine environment had not been achieved by 2020.

3. Statutory obligations for a just transition to a net-zero society by 2045 (75% by 2030) will require transformation in our use of the sea and decarbonisation across marine sectors and supply chains, including an energy transition with expansion in offshore renewables, carbon capture and storage and hydrogen.

4. Competition for marine space and resources as the intensity and range of human activities continues to increase in response to demand for marine products, energy and transport. Managing co-existence in the same shared marine space or competition for space and resources requires a new approach to achieving the most effective use of the sea.

5. Scotland’s Leadership Continuing to build global momentum for positive action, following the success in strengthening ocean-based action during COP26. We are at the beginning of the UN decade of Ecosystem Restoration, and United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development which are bringing together the global community to focus on marine challenges.

6. Scotland’s commitment to a wellbeing economy as a founding member of the Wellbeing Economy Governments group. Building an economy that is inclusive, promotes sustainability, prosperity and resilience, where businesses can thrive and innovate, supporting communities across Scotland to access opportunities and deliver wellbeing.

7. Brexit and Covid EU Exit has changed policy making in Scotland, especially for marine management as an area heavily regulated by direct EU legislation. The Scottish Government has new powers, obligations, opportunities and risks placing increasing importance on governance, accountability and open government principles. The combined economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and EU Exit trade issues have had a significant negative impact on the economy as a whole, including marine sectors and the seafood sector in particular. Investment in the Blue Economy will need to deliver multiple benefits for Scotland’s sectors and communities.

8. Research and Development Advancements in science and generation of ocean observation data supports increased understanding, innovation and the development of new tools and approaches for marine management, including natural capital (see Box 1) and wellbeing metrics to support decision making.

The Importance of Scotland's Blue Economy

  • 93 inhabited islands
  • 18,743 km of coastline
  • 125,000 km of rivers and streams
  • 75,500 jobs in the marine economy

    Contributing to 2.8% of total Scottish employment

  • 9,636 Mt CO2 equivalent stored in ‘Blue Carbon’

    Equivalent to total carbon stored in Scotland’s terrestrial ecosystem

  • A Marine Protected Area network covering 37% of Scotland’s Seas
  • Home to 6,500 complex and 40,000 single cell species
  • £5 billion in GVA generated from the marine economy in 2019
  • A marine area of 617,000 km2

    Seven times greater than the land

  • 16 million domestic day trips to Scotland’s coasts annually
  • 10,000 maritime students trained annually at City of Glasgow College
  • 1.9 GW of installed operational capacity from six offshore wind farms, supporting 2,200 jobs
  • £877 million of Scottish seafood exports in 2020

    £709 million of which was export to the EU

  • £614 million of Scottish-farmed salmon exports in 2020

    40% of total UK fish and seafood exports

  • 30 million tonnes of exports through Scottish ports in 2020

Box 1 - Natural Capital and the Blue Economy Approach

We need to explore the feasibility of new tools to support evidence-informed decision making.

Ecosystem Services: “The benefits provided by ecosystems that contribution to making human life both possible and worth living

Natural capital: “that part of nature which directly or indirectly underpins value to people, including ecosystems, species, freshwater, soils, minerals, the air and oceans, as well as natural processes and functions”

Figure 4

Global scale processes and biodiversity create the natural capital stocks that yield nature’s contributions to people and society (Reproduced from A Nature-Positive World: The Global Goal for Nature, 2021).


Natural capital


Ecosystem and abiotic services


Benefits to business and to society

Sustained economic development and prosperity derived from the marine environment relies on robust and resilient ecosystems. Natural capital is a way of thinking about nature as a stock that provides a flow of benefits to people and the economy, where the flow of benefits and the capacity of the ecosystem to deliver those benefits both need to be maintained. Including natural capital in traditional economic tools that support decision making, helps us understand that natural capital is capable of being enhanced or degraded.

This approach puts environmental and societal issues on a more balanced footing when weighed against purely commercial considerations. This can help strengthen a shared stewardship approach to the management of the marine ecosystem. It can also help set biodiversity net gain policy targets.

Delivering a blue economy approach to managing ocean resources and balancing economic, social and environmental interests will require a clear decision-making framework. One approach would be the wider use of natural capital assessments in policy development and implementation to achieve a balance in the use of the ocean’s resource. This would also bring marine decision making tools in line with those that exist for terrestrial systems, where the Natural Capital Asset Index (NCAI) tracks changes in the capacity of Scotland’s terrestrial ecosystems to provide benefits to people.

The blue economy action plan will set out further proposals relating to this.

Whilst thought technically feasible, natural capital asset indexes are yet to be developed for the marine environment in Scotland, as they have been for terrestrial environments. Regional pilots already underway provide the first steps in testing this approach. It will therefore require further work to develop and deliver a clear assessment framework that can be used as a tool that can take account of the effects that human pressures have on ecosystem services to inform decision making.


Email: Pat.McAuley@gov.scot

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