Draft Seaweed Policy Statement Consultation Paper

Consultation paper on policy options for seaweed cultivation in Scotland

1 Non-Technical Summary

1.1 What is the Seaweed Policy Statement Consultation Document?

1.1.1 The Seaweed Policy Statement Consultation Document (the Consultation Document) is the vehicle for consultation on the proposed Seaweed Policy Statement ( SPS) currently being developed by Marine Scotland. The Consultation Document has been prepared to engage with stakeholders and other interested parties on policies being considered for inclusion in the proposed SPS, and to seek views on a range of issues relating to the future growth of the seaweed cultivation and wild harvesting industries in Scotland. The finalisation of the SPS will be informed by the views expressed in the consultation.

1.1.2 The SPS will set out the Scottish Government's policy on the suitability of seaweed cultivation in different scenarios. It will also explore the most suitable regime for licensing seaweed cultivation as a single species and the development of Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture ( IMTA), and indicate the issues considered in determining whether a proposal is acceptable, such as the species to be cultivated, and the scale of development planned.

1.1.3 It will provide greater certainty for the industry at an early stage in its development, informing potential developers of the Government's expectations, while ensuring that activities which may have an environmental impact are understood and mitigated. The statement will sit alongside the National Marine Plan ( NMP), inform the (future) Regional Marine Plans and Local Development Plans, and complement a range of existing regulations and legislative instruments, plans, programmes and strategies ( PPS) developed at the European, UK and Scottish levels.

1.2 What is the role of this SEA?

1.2.1 The Strategic Environmental Assessment ( SEA) was undertaken in accordance with the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005, and reflects a 'bottom-up' approach to assessment, integrated with the development of the SPS.

1.2.2 The SEA presents information relating to Scotland's seaweed industry and the important role of seaweed in the marine environment, and an assessment of potential broad environmental effects that may be associated with commercial seaweed cultivation in Scottish waters and expansion of harvesting of seaweed in the wild. The SEA has also examined reasonable alternatives, potential cumulative and synergistic effects, and monitoring requirements, and considered likely interactions between the policies within the proposed SPS and those in other plans, programmes and strategies for the marine environment.

1.3 An integrated approach

1.3.1 The SEA was used to frontload the development of the SPS, and played a key role in the iterative policy development process from the outset. Via early engagement with the Consultation Authorities, the SEA scoping process served to inform the SPS development, identifying potential environmental considerations associated with growth of the commercial cultivation and wild harvesting industries, and helping to steer the direction of the SPS at the policy scoping stage.

1.3.2 The progression of the assessment continued to aid the development of the proposed SPS and its findings have prompted the inclusion of specific policies into the Consultation Document, whilst also considering, and in some instances identifying, reasonable alternatives. As such, many of the policies within the Consultation Document address concerns raised in the SEA, and several act to mitigate potential environmental impacts identified during this assessment process.

1.4 Why is seaweed important?

1.4.1 Scotland has a rich variety of seaweed species with many areas around the Scottish coastline containing suitable habitats, including the high natural nutrient levels and current flows considered to be necessary for seaweed growth. In consequence, Scotland's seashores and shallow marine intertidal and subtidal habitats are rich in macroalgal growth, providing a wide range of important and unique habitats for many marine plants and animals, demonstrated by the inclusion of some habitats as Priority Marine Features ( PMF).

1.4.2 Seaweed communities play key roles in the marine environment by acting as a food source, the bio-accumulation and absorption of nutrients and pollutants, aiding in coastal wave protection and providing support for coastal habitat development, whilst also supporting a number of commercial industries. The use of wild seaweed stocks and the production of cultured or cultivated stocks have a rich global history, particularly in Asia, where seaweeds are used in a range of products and processes, with some species harvested or grown specifically for human consumption. Recently, research has focused on the large-scale culture of seaweed for industrial use, particularly in bioenergy production.

1.4.3 Historically, Scotland's seaweed industry has been based upon the small-scale harvesting of seaweed in the wild, a practice that continues to the present day. However, the Scottish Government and wider industry have identified that there is potential for the growth of seaweed cultivation, its use in IMTA, and expansion of harvesting in the wild.

1.5 What are the potential environmental impacts of the expansion of Scotland's Commercial Seaweed Industry?

1.5.1 The assessment identified a range of potential environmental issues relating to both seaweed cultivation and commercial seaweed harvesting in the wild, largely relating to the key role that seaweed plays in Scotland's marine ecosystems and coastal areas, and the national and international value attributed to many of the habitats these support.

Commercial Seaweed Cultivation and IMTA

1.5.2 The SEA identified a range of potential generic environmental effects that could be associated with commercial seaweed cultivation development:

  • Potential benefits in the creation of refuges for fauna, including juvenile wild fish stocks, and supporting marine and shoreline biodiversity.
  • Potential for improvements to water quality, particularly in offsetting impacts of finfish aquaculture.
  • Risks to aquatic and benthic fauna from the presence of farm cultivation sites and their infrastructure ( e.g. entanglement, barriers to movement, smothering).
  • Risks to ecosystem biodiversity through the use of non-native cultured species.
  • Potential visual issues associated with the presence of cultivation infrastructure.
  • Potential for changes to coastal processes, water flows and exchange rates associated with the presence of cultivated seaweed and infrastructure.
  • Potential for hazards associated with storm damaged equipment and infrastructure.
  • Potential interactions with other marine users associated with the siting of cultivation infrastructure and activities.

1.5.3 The SEA identified that any potential impacts associated with seaweed cultivation, either positive or adverse, are likely to be dependent on site-specific factors such as the location and scale of a development, and the composition and sensitivity of the corresponding marine ecosystems. As such, the SEA considered that many of these issues may be best considered and assessed at the project level.

1.5.4 In general terms, shellfish-scale or IMTA cultivation as outlined in the SPS is considered less likely to result in significant environmental impacts (such as benthic impacts, collision risk and navigational issues), than large-scale developments, if they are appropriately sited and designed. The SEA found that the use of seaweed cultivation in IMTA can have positive environmental effects for biodiversity and water quality, mitigating some negative impacts from finfish aquaculture. It also considered that undertaking cultivation operations in offshore areas may also overcome many of the potential issues that have been identified for near-shore developments, such as spatial competition and coastal impacts.

Commercial Harvesting in the Wild

1.5.5 The assessment identified a range of potential generic environmental effects that could be associated with growth in commercial harvesting of seaweed in the wild:

  • Potential impacts associated with over-harvesting or harvesting practices ( e.g. loss of habitat and species, reduced nutrient inputs).
  • Potential for impacts on coastal processes from harvesting ( e.g. changes to wave patterns and tidal flows, reduced storm resistance and impacts to shoreline biodiversity).

1.5.6 The SEA identified the importance of Scotland's natural seaweeds to the marine environment, noting concerns on the potential for adverse impacts from increased commercial harvesting of Scotland's natural seaweed stocks, particularly kelp. However, it was noted that there is presently no evidence to indicate that seaweed harvesting in the wild is currently resulting in adverse environmental impacts in Scottish waters.

1.5.7 It found that sustainable management of this resource is vital in the future growth of the industry, and that failure to implement appropriate harvesting practices could have adverse impacts on seaweed biodiversity in local and wider marine communities. In general terms, factors such as the method of harvesting, the harvesting intensity and frequency, seasonality, and the seaweed species being harvested can all influence the ecological impacts of commercial harvesting operations, and affect the sustainability of the resource and the flora and fauna it supports.

1.5.8 The SEA found that the SPS and its consultation may provide a valuable tool for engagement with the commercial wild harvesting industry and other stakeholders to discuss practical options for managing the sustainable growth of the industry, prompting the inclusion of wild harvesting in the Consultation Document and seeking views on the potential development of guidance for commercial harvesting in the wild.

1.6 How will the Seaweed Policy Statement affect the environment?

1.6.1 The SEA found that the proposed SPS will likely contribute to overall positive environmental effects for biodiversity and water quality, particularly in relation to IMTA. Policies such as the Scottish Government's requirement for the culture of seaweeds that are native to the area of cultivation were considered likely to complement wider policy to preserve the genetic integrity of Scotland's marine ecosystems. Other policies, such as the use of fit-for-purpose equipment and consideration of other marine users to address potential siting conflicts, have been included in the Consultation Document to address environmental issues identified in this SEA.

1.6.2 The SEA noted that the main role of the proposed SPS would be in the encouragement of avoiding adverse environmental impacts, and the potential for creating additional interest for seaweed cultivation and IMTA in the industry. However, the findings also demonstrate the interdependence of the SPS, the seaweed industry and its stakeholders, the processes currently in place, and the combined role that they will need to play in realising the benefits promoted by the proposed SPS and this SEA.

1.7 Interactions and Cumulative Effects

1.7.1 Together, the proposed SPS and other overarching PPS will likely contribute to overall positive environmental effects, particularly for biodiversity and water quality. The overarching principles of sustainable development and protection of Scotland's marine environment, in particular, form key threads in the SPS and wider Scottish policy.

1.7.2 Specific provisions in the Consultation Document (such as the use of fit-for-purpose equipment, promoting the cultivation of seaweed for human consumption in locations away from sewage outfalls and other pollution sources, and consideration of other marine users and activities in the siting of seaweed farms) have been included to address issues identified in the SEA and to complement existing policy and planning. Their identification in the iterative SPS development and SEA processes, and subsequent inclusion in the proposed SPS and its Consultation Document should add weight to their consideration by the commercial seaweed cultivation and wild harvesting industries.

1.8 Monitoring Opportunities

1.8.1 While no specific proposals for monitoring have been presented in the Consultation Document, this SEA outlines monitoring requirements within the current regulatory framework ( e.g. monitoring detailed in marine licences issued by Marine Scotland), and provides an overview of the scope for monitoring with the future growth of the seaweed industry. The SEA identified opportunities for obtaining greater knowledge on Scotland's important wild seaweed communities.

1.8.2 These include scope for monitoring of environmental effects by developers of medium-scale cultivation sites in demonstrating that appropriate mitigation measures have been implemented, opportunities for further research on environmental effects associated with cultivation and wild harvesting operations, and the likelihood of additional spatial studies to be undertaken in the future expansion of Scotland's commercial wild harvesting industry.

1.9 Next Steps

1.9.1 Consultation on the Consultation Document and the Environmental Report is now open and will close on 17 November 2013. Public views and opinions on this Environmental Report, and the Consultation Document to which it relates, are now invited. A post adoption SEA statement will be prepared outlining how the findings of the SEA and the responses have been taken into account in the final SPS.


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