Draft Seaweed Policy Statement Consultation Paper

Consultation paper on policy options for seaweed cultivation in Scotland

Partial Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment


Purpose and intended effect

This consultation seeks comments on the Scottish Government's consideration of the suitability of seaweed cultivation in different situations. It also seeks views on potential options for licensing cultivation and a number of related issues including the regulation of wild seaweed harvesting, and the future diversification of cultivated species.


Scottish aquaculture is a growing and increasingly important industry which helps to underpin sustainable economic growth in rural and coastal communities, especially in the Highlands and Islands.

The Scottish Government supports industry aspirations to grow the aquaculture sector sustainably. This includes the support and development of non-salmon sectors to contribute to the achievement of industry targets, and also to diversify the sector.

The sustainable development of seaweed cultivation is one such sector which the Scottish Government wishes to encourage. This includes the cultivation of seaweed as a single species and the development of Integrated Multi Trophic Aquaculture ( IMTA), where a number of different species are grown at one site and the by-products from one are recycled to become inputs for another.

Existing situation

Seaweed farms are currently licensed under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010; in Shetland and Orkney an additional Works Licence is also required. All other types of aquaculture are considered to be development under the Town and Country Planning Act 1997 ('the 1997 Act'). It should be noted that as well as planning consent, finfish and shellfish farms also need a Marine Licence, although this is purely for navigational aspects of the development.

Where a site is an IMTA development, the consent to develop (or place or deposit equipment in the water) is therefore currently dealt with under 2 different regimes with no consideration of the development as a whole (except through Environmental Impact Assessment).

The difference in regulatory regimes also leads to a situation where there may currently be farms using the same or similar equipment ( i.e. mussel farms and seaweed farms) in the same water body, but licensed by different regulatory regimes because they farm different species. We recognise that this is a potentially confusing situation for industry and the public, particularly in relation to IMTA applications.


The Seaweed Policy Statement ( SPS) will facilitate the sustainable development of the industry by setting out the Scottish Government's view of the suitability of seaweed cultivation in different situations, by indicating the issues considered in determining whether a proposal is acceptable, such as the species cultivated, and the size and location of the site. The statement will also assist the management and regulation of seaweed cultivation, by informing policy to manage and mitigate any impacts from seaweed cultivation.

UK policy

Seaweed cultivation in the rest of the UK is in its very early stages. In England and Wales, permission to gather seaweed is required from landowners and environmental agencies, and the first licence granted for the cultivation of seaweed was granted by The Crown Estate in 2012.

Wider EU policy

The European seaweed industry has traditionally been based on harvesting wild stock, due to uncompetitive market prices being paid for raw seaweed. Such development has produced low-volume high-value seaweed and sea vegetables for human consumption, in small quantities and locally restricted to coastal areas.

Available data shows a growing gap - estimated at 8 million tonnes - between the level of consumption of seafood in the EU and the volume of captures from fisheries. EU Member States are required to help ensure that this gap is partly filled by environmentally, socially and economically sustainable aquaculture. The growing expectations from consumers for quality and diversity of food products, especially if locally produced, offer new possibilities to give value to the assets of coastal and inland areas. Member states are encouraged to coordinate action to stimulate local economies to meet the growing demand for locally, sustainably produced seafood, which could potentially include seaweed.

Encouraging seaweed production will also contribute to the aims of the EU Blue Growth strategy, which supports maritime sector growth by identifying activities with long term high growth potential and supporting them by removing administrative barriers. The strategy particularly focuses on existing and emerging and activities relating to the use of marine resources (such as seaweed) in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.

Rationale for Scottish Government intervention

The SPS will provide those wanting to submit an application with a better understanding of the type of development that may be given approval. The overall benefit will be to provide greater certainty for the industry, while ensuring that Scotland's environment is protected from any activities which may have a negative environmental impact.

Facilitating improved conditions for cultivating seaweed contributes to the aims of the Scottish Government National Performance Framework through the Greener strategic objective, by encouraging the sustainable use of Scotland's natural environment while also contributing to the transition to a low carbon economy. Seaweed is a natural resource which can be grown with little environmental impact, and has the potential to both boost our economy and economic growth. Seaweed cultivation also contributes to the implementation of the Wealthier and Fairer strategic objective by enabling businesses and people to increase their wealth, and allowing others to share that wealth. Further aquaculture industry diversification and development will also generate greater employment opportunities, contributing to increased national prosperity.


Within Government

The Crown Estate

Food Standards Agency Scotland

Scottish Government Marine Scotland

Scottish Government Marine Scotland Science

Scottish Government Environment Quality Division

Scottish Government Directorate for Legal Services

Scottish Government Directorate for Local Government and Communities

Scottish Water

Scottish Environment Protection Agency

Scottish Natural Heritage

Public Consultation

Public consultation will take place from 26 August to 17 November 2013


Face-to-face discussions with IMTA farmers and members of the Association of Scottish Shellfish Growers were held in the SPS drafting stages.


The SPS contains the following policies relating to seaweed cultivation:

  • Policy 1 - In principle, the Scottish Government is supportive of shellfish scale seaweed cultivation, subject to regulatory consideration.
  • Policy 2 - Only species native to the area where the seaweed cultivation will take place should be cultivated, to minimise the risk from non-native species.
  • Policy 3 - Where seaweed is grown for human consumption, cultivators could site farms away from sewage outfalls and other potential sources of pollution.
  • Policy 4 - Equipment used in seaweed cultivation should be fit for purpose to prevent damage from adverse weather conditions.
  • Policy 5 - Other marine users and activities should be considered in the siting of farms.
  • Policy 6 - Shellfish scale farming is not spatially limited, and may be located anywhere in Scotland with appropriate local conditions, and with due regard to the marine environment.
  • Policy 7 - In principle, the Scottish Government is also supportive of medium scale development, subject to regulatory consideration. Applications for such seaweed farms should demonstrate that mitigation measures have been considered to prevent adverse environmental impacts, and set out how these will be delivered.
  • Policy 8 - The Scottish Government is supportive of IMTA.
  • Policy 9 - Where seaweed is grown in IMTAs alongside finfish, it is spatially limited to the West Coast of Scotland, the Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney. This is due to the continued presumption against further marine finfish developments on the north and east coasts, as detailed in the Scottish Planning Policy document and the forthcoming National Marine Plan.


Section 2 of the SPS discusses the current consenting arrangements for the development of sites cultivating seaweed, outlining four options for future consenting :

1) No change

No change would mean seaweed cultivation being consented by Marine Scotland through the marine licensing regime, and other aquaculture development (encompassing fish or shellfish, including sea urchin, crustacean or mollusc) regulated under the 1997 Act by the Planning Authority.

This may be confusing and time consuming for developers and complicated for members of the public commenting on applications. IMTA applications will also not be considered holistically. However, with regard to IMTA applications, there may be opportunities to simplify the consenting process, i.e. by providing a process flow diagram or agreement on the administrative order for application progress, and sharing information by submission through one regulatory regime.

2) Provide main consent through terrestrial planning regime

Responses made to questions about seaweed cultivation and regulation in the Aquaculture and Fisheries Bill consultation 2012 by industry, local authorities and regulators indicated a strong preference for all seaweed cultivation to be regulated by the Town and Country Planning Act 1997 (given that is how other aquaculture developments are regulated). Under this option we have assumed that this will apply to all applications to cultivate seaweed, regardless of scale, type, location etc.

This would mean a move away from all marine developments (except those defined as fish farming under the 1997 Act) being considered by the Marine Licensing regime. The Scottish Government considers that potential significant environmental impacts are best considered and regulated by Marine Scotland.

3) Use both planning and marine licensing regimes but differentiate by scale

Under this option, both regulatory regimes will continue to be used but criteria would be developed to differentiate between shellfish scale ( i.e. 0-40 x 200m lines seaweed cultivation, and medium scale (41-80 x 200m lines), up to extensive scale, (80+ x 200m lines) seaweed cultivation.

This option would see shellfish scale seaweed cultivation consented by Planning Authorities through the 1997 Act and medium scale consented under the Marine Licensing regime. This would allow farms with what may be significant environmental impacts to be continued to be regulated by Marine Scotland.

4) Transfer seaweed to planning only if it is part of IMTA development

A final option provides for seaweed cultivation is regulated under the 1997 Act only if it cultivated as part of an IMTA system. This could be achieved by an amendment to the 1997 Act as well as marine licensing legislation.

There are two main benefits to this option: IMTA applications will be considered holistically and the process is simplified for developers of IMTA sites. There are some disadvantages as it may be difficult to ascertain when seaweed cultivation is part of an IMTA development, i.e. whether there should there be a maximum distance between elements of the proposal.

Sectors and groups affected

This SPS will inform all those who have an interest in seaweed cultivation and harvesting in Scotland, including regulators, such as the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, and the Food Standards Agency Scotland. It will also be of interest and affect those who currently cultivate, or are considering cultivating seaweed in the future. Aquaculture farmers who already grow finfish and/or shellfish may be interested in growing seaweed as part of an IMTA.

Scottish Firms Impact Test

In Scotland, the industry development is currently in its very early stages, with only eight sites cultivating seaweed. At this stage, the SPS will have a positive impact on the competitiveness of companies growing seaweed within Scotland, but no global impact.

No additional financial costs will be incurred by any current businesses as a result of the SPS. Farmers will still have to pay some form of licensing fees - we are simply proposing a change to the licensing regime.

Regarding benefits, aquaculture farmers wishing to grow seaweed will gain from a better understanding of the type of development that may be given approval when submitting applications for consent to grow seaweed.

As the existing number of seaweed sites is limited in both number and size (most of them very small), face to face discussions were not considered useful at this stage of the SPS development. However, preliminary discussions were held with both an IMTA cultivator, and a representative of the shellfish sector the trade body. All current seaweed cultivators will be invited to make a full response to the consultation.

Competition assessment

Through the application of the Office of Fair Trading filter questions, in our view, the proposals in the SPS will not impact negatively on competition within the seaweed industry, as it is in the very early stages of development.

The proposals will not directly limit the number or range of suppliers, as it will not award exclusive supplier rights, or create closed procurement or licensing programmes. The proposals will also not indirectly limit the number or range of suppliers, or raise costs for smaller entrants relative to larger existing suppliers. The ability of suppliers to compete will not be limited, as the proposals will not reduce the channels suppliers can use, or geographic area they can operate in. The proposals will also not reduce suppliers' incentives to compete - as the industry expands it is fully expected that the proposals will encourage a wider exchange of information on prices, costs, sales or outputs between suppliers.

Test Run of business forms

The proposals will not introduce any statutory business forms.

Legal Aid Impact Test

The Scottish Government Access to Justice Team has confirmed that as the measures are aimed at businesses, the proposals are not expected to have an impact on the Legal Aid Fund.

Enforcement, sanctions and monitoring

It is anticipated that the consultation responses will identify the most appropriate consenting regime to be used for the licensing of seaweed. If consent is to be given by the Town and Country Planning Act 1997, the licence, the same enforcement, sanctions and monitoring that exist for other form of aquaculture will be adapted for seaweed and carried out by the relevant local planning authority. If there is no change to the licensing regime and seaweed cultivation is retained under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, these responsibilities will remain with Marine Scotland, with no change to the current enforcement, sanction and monitoring provisions.

Implementation and delivery plan

To be completed post-consultation.

Post-implementation review

To be completed post-consultation.

Summary and recommendation

The Scottish Government is recommending the policies in the SPS, but not any one particular regulatory control option - this will be decided after analysis of the consultation results.

Summary of costs and benefits

Financial costs will be negligible as seaweed cultivation is not expected to have negative environmental impacts. The SPS will contribute to industry certainty, and possibly lead to expansion, but financial benefits relating to this are unquantifiable at this early stage. It is anticipated the consultation will provide further information on costs. Seaweed cultivation is not expected to have a negative impact on water quality so there will be no cost implications for Scottish Water.

Declaration and publication

I have read the impact assessment and I am satisfied that, given the available evidence, it represents a reasonable view of the likely costs, benefits and impact of the leading options. I am satisfied that business impact has been assessed with the support of businesses in Scotland.


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