Draft Seaweed Policy Statement Consultation Paper

Consultation paper on policy options for seaweed cultivation in Scotland

3 Context of the Seaweed Policy Statement and its Consultation Document

3.1 Introduction

3.1.1 The Consultation Document prepared by Marine Scotland seeks comments on a range of policies proposed for inclusion in the SPS, and on issues relating to the potential growth of the commercial seaweed cultivation and wild harvesting industries in Scotland. These include the consideration of possible different consenting regimes for seaweed cultivation, the development of guidance on commercial seaweed harvesting in the wild, and the future diversification of cultivated species.

3.1.2 The finalisation of the SPS will be informed by the views expressed in the consultation. It will set out Scottish Government's aspirations for the sustainable development of a commercial seaweed cultivation industry in Scotland, including the cultivation of seaweed as a single species and the development of Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture ( IMTA). It will outline the Scottish Government's view of the suitability of seaweed cultivation in a number of different scenarios and provide industry with a better understanding of the Government's expectations on the types of development that would be considered to be most appropriate.

3.1.3 It is anticipated that the SPS will provide greater certainty for the industry at this early stage of the industry's development and inform potential developers of the Government's expectations. Once developed, it 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 ( Section 3.5). It is anticipated that the policies proposed for the SPS will assist potential developers in preparing informed planning and licensing applications.

3.1.4 This section of the report presents the content of the Consultation Document for the SPS and outlines the relationship of the proposed SPS with other relevant marine plans, programmes and strategies.

3.2 Objectives and Content of the Seaweed Policy Statement

3.2.1 The aim of the SPS and its Consultation Document is to facilitate and support the sustainable development of the industry in Scotland at an early stage in its growth, by providing greater certainty for potential developers. The SPS will likely cover commercial-scale cultivation, IMTA and commercial harvesting of seaweed in the wild.

3.2.2 The development of the SPS is being phased to accommodate current knowledge and practices, whilst allowing for future advances in the industry.

Commercial-scale Cultivation

3.2.3 The Consultation Document identifies three different scales of commercial-scale seaweed cultivation:

  • Shellfish-Scale Cultivation - comprising sites that are similar in size to typical mussel farms ( i.e. up to 40 x 200m lines of seaweed).
  • Medium-Scale Cultivation - comprising sites that exceed the size of a typical mussel farm ( i.e. 41 to 80 x 200m lines of seaweed) but are smaller than extensive-scale sites, such as those potentially used for biofuel production.
  • Extensive-Scale Cultivation - comprising large-scale sites and utilising different equipment to that used in shellfish production. Such sites may have the potential for use in biofuel production.

3.2.4 The Consultation Document outlines the Scottish Government's support for shellfish-scale cultivation, subject to regulatory consideration, and sets out the following policies:

  • Use of seaweed species that are native to the area of cultivation.
  • Where seaweed is grown for human consumption, farms should be sited away from sewage outfalls and other potential sources of pollution.
  • Fit-for-purpose equipment should be used in cultivation operations to prevent damage from adverse weather conditions.
  • Other marine users and activities must be considered in the siting of farms.
  • There is no spatial limitation on cultivation activities in Scotland.

3.2.5 The Consultation Document details the same broad policies for medium-scale farms, and acknowledges the potential for adverse environmental impacts. It notes that applications for medium-scale seaweed farms should demonstrate that mitigation measures have been considered to prevent adverse impacts ( i.e. environmental impacts and interactions with other marine users). It also states that an application should set out how these will be delivered.

3.2.6 However, the Consultation Document does not contain a policy for extensive-scale development, as this is currently the subject of research and investigation, primarily for the production of biofuels. Rather, Marine Scotland proposes to consider the development of a policy for this scale of cultivation in the event that it should look likely to develop in the future.


3.2.7 The Scottish Government supports the use of seaweed in IMTA alongside fed or farmed species, such as Atlantic salmon. The Consultation Document sets out the same policy considerations as those for shellfish-scale cultivation, but notes that the use of IMTA in finfish aquaculture will be limited to Scotland's west coast, the Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney due to the presumption against further finfish development on the north and east coasts [3],[4] .

Commercial Harvesting of Seaweed in the Wild

3.2.8 The Consultation Document seeks views on the potential development of guidance for managing the growth of a sustainable commercial harvesting industry utilising Scotland's natural seaweed stocks, as a means of promoting good practice and mitigating against potential negative impacts from growth in this industry.

3.3 Environmental Considerations in the Seaweed Policy Statement

3.3.1 Environmental issues have been a key focus in the development of the SPS and its Consultation Document from the outset, with particular attention paid to investigating the potential positive and negative effects on the marine and coastal environments from the cultivation of seaweed and the commercial harvesting of seaweed in the wild. This SEA has been used to 'front-load' the development of the SPS, thereby ensuring that environmental issues and options have been considered at an early stage and incorporated into the policy.

3.4 Key Facts

3.4.1 Key facts about the SPS and its Consultation Document are set out in Table 3.1.

Table 3.1: Key Facts About the Proposed SPS and its Consultation Document

Responsible Authority

Marine Scotland

Title of PPS

Seaweed Policy Statement Consultation Document

Purpose of PPS

Marine Scotland's Aquaculture Planning Team has prepared a Consultation Document setting out the Scottish Government's proposed policy for commercial seaweed cultivation as well as proposals for regulation of commercial seaweed harvesting in the wild.

The aim of the Consultation Document is to seek views on policies being considered for inclusion in the proposed SPS, and on a range of issues relating to the future growth of the seaweed cultivation and wild harvesting industries in Scotland.

What prompted the PPS

The development of the SPS and its Consultation Document has been prompted by the recognition of growing interest in seaweed cultivation in Scotland, and the potential for future growth of this industry and the existing industry for commercial harvesting of seaweed in the wild.


Commercial seaweed cultivation and commercial harvesting of seaweed in the wild.

Period covered by PPS

Not defined

Frequency of updates

Not specified

Area covered by PPS

Scottish territorial waters (0-12 nautical miles offshore)

Summary of nature/ content of PPS

The SPS will sit within the existing legislation and policy framework for Scotland's marine environment, and will complement a range of existing regulations and legislation and PPS developed at the European, UK and Scottish levels.

It will set out the Scottish Government's policy on the suitability of seaweed cultivation in different scenarios whilst providing greater certainty for the industry at an early stage in its development. The SPS will inform potential developers of the Government's expectations whilst ensuring that activities which may have an environmental impact are understood and mitigated.

The SPS will also explore the most suitable regime for licensing seaweed cultivation 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.

This SEA has been used to front-load the SPS and its Consultation Document to ensure that environmental factors have been integrated into the policy's development.

Are there any proposed PPS objectives?

Yes (see 'Purpose of PPS').


Jamie Byfield,
Environmental Assessment Team
2J-South, Victoria Quay
Edinburgh EH6 6QQ
Tel: 0131 244 4077


Fiona Watt, Operational Delivery
Marine Scotland Aquaculture Planning Team
1B-North, Victoria Quay
Edinburgh EH6 6QQ

Tel: 0131 244 6418

3.5 Relationship with Other Plans, Programmes or Strategies

3.5.1 The Act requires that the Environmental Report include an outline of the relationships between the proposed SPS and other relevant PPS. Figure 3.1 shows the range of policy and legislative drivers at the European, UK and Scottish levels that are of relevance to both the seaweed production sector, and to Scotland's wider marine environment.

3.5.2 At the European level, three European Commission ( EC) Regulations ( EC834/2007 [5] , EC889/2008 [6] and EC710/2009 [7] ) prescribe goals, principles and rules for organic production in general, and practices for seaweed production. These regulations are set largely around ensuring the adoption of sustainable practices both in production and management of natural harvest areas, maintaining the integrity of the aquatic environment, and ensuring that the end product is suitable for human consumption. The SPS was developed to promote these principles and objectives for seaweed cultivation and harvesting within Scotland.

3.5.3 'Safeguarding our Seas' [8] sets out the UK Government's vision for clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas. It sets out the adoption of an ecosystem-based approach to marine management, and is underpinned by six key principles:

  • Sustainable development.
  • Integrated management.
  • Conservation of biological diversity.
  • Robust science.
  • The precautionary principle.
  • Stakeholder involvement.

3.5.4 The strategy 'Our Seas - a Shared Resource' [9] takes forward this vision, and sets out the high-level marine objectives for the UK as a whole, while allowing for the distinctive circumstances and responsibilities of each of the devolved administrative areas.

3.5.5 These documents also provide the foundation for the UK Marine Policy Statement ( MPS) [10] . The MPS, adopted jointly by the UK Administrations, sets the marine policy framework for marine planning and decision-making across the UK. It was developed to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in the United Kingdom marine area, thereby:

  • Promoting sustainable economic development.
  • Enabling the move towards a low-carbon economy to mitigate the causes of climate change and ocean acidification whilst adapting to their expected effects.
  • Ensuring a sustainable marine environment and promoting healthy, functioning marine ecosystems, whilst protecting marine habitats, species and heritage assets.
  • Contributing to the socio-economic benefits of the marine area and the sustainable use of marine resources in addressing local social and economic issues.

3.5.6 Together, the three documents set the policy context and overarching goals within which the SPS was prepared.

3.5.7 The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 [11] created a new legislative and management framework for Scotland's marine environment, to manage demands for the use of the sea. Part 3 of the Act includes a requirement for the preparation and adoption of a NMP. The NMP will set the wider context for marine planning in Scottish territorial and offshore waters. The NMP is in preparation, and a consultation draft NMP [12] was published in June 2013.

3.5.8 Once finalised, the NMP will sit alongside and interact with Scottish Planning Policy in managing the sustainable development of Scotland's marine resources. The future Regional Marine Plans will provide a focused framework to facilitate more local ownership and decision-making about specific issues in a smaller area.

3.5.9 The draft NMP outlines a set of planning policies for the aquaculture sector, including providing support for the development of seaweed production for a variety of products, and noting the potential for synergies with other sectors such as offshore renewables and in IMTA systems. The Consultation Document has been developed in accordance with these objectives.

3.6 Regulation of Seaweed Cultivation and Harvesting of Seaweed in the Wild

3.6.1 At present, the cultivation of seaweed is only regulated through the marine licensing regime. The Town and Country Planning (Marine Fish Farming) (Scotland) Order 2007 gives planning authorities full planning responsibility for aquaculture developments in marine waters ( i.e. 0 - 12 nm). However, the definition of fish farming set out in Section 26(6) of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 does not include seaweed, referring only to the farming of finfish, shellfish and sea urchins.

3.6.2 Under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, the Scottish Government is responsible for the marine licensing of activities carried out in Scottish territorial waters ( i.e. 0 - 12 nm offshore). These activities include making deposits in the sea, or on, or under the seabed, and therefore include the installation of equipment in the water to grow seaweed ( i.e. rope lines and buoys attached to the seabed).

Figure 3.1: Policy Context for the Seaweed Policy Statement

3.6.3 The potential reform of the current regulatory system was discussed in the Aquaculture and Fisheries Bill Consultation Document in 2012, with the intention of ensuring that the regulatory framework for seaweed is proportionate and effective. Two options for reform were discussed:

  • The provision for making seaweed cultivation a licensable marine activity under Section 21 of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010.
  • The amendment of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 to bring seaweed cultivation into the planning system.

3.6.4 The responses from this consultation raised two main points. Firstly, there was strong support from all stakeholder areas for the regulation of seaweed cultivation, and, secondly, stakeholders generally considered that the regulatory framework should be the same for all aquaculture. However, respondents held differing views on the nature of regulation. Some, primarily from the marine fisheries, the voluntary sector and freshwater fisheries sector, supported regulation of seaweed farming by marine licensing.

3.6.5 However, the aquaculture industry felt that unless all aquaculture planning consents moved to the marine licensing system, the regulatory system for seaweed should also sit with the Planning Authority under the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997. All planning authorities also felt that the regulatory regime should be the same for seaweed, finfish and shellfish farms, and that this should fall to the planning authorities under this Act.

3.6.6 The harvesting of wild seaweed in Scottish waters is not currently regulated. However, operations involving the harvesting of seaweed in the wild for commercial or personal use, with some exceptions ( i.e. crofters [13] ), usually requires the permission of the land owner ( i.e. The Crown Estate ( TCE) or other landowner). These arrangements can range from verbal agreements to formal contracts and specified periods of 'tenure' [14] . SNH were of the view that such wild harvesting should be regulated, because of the potential for ecological effects and the possibility that such harvesting may become large-scale in future.

3.6.7 This Consultation Document discusses the current consenting arrangements for the development of sites for seaweed cultivation, and also options for consent licensing in the future. The Document seeks views on which option, or options, are considered by respondents as being the best fit for the regulation of this activity.

3.7 Relationship with Environmental Protection Objectives

3.7.1 The development of the Consultation Document has been undertaken in the light of a number of environmental protection objectives set out in a wide range of PPS at the international, EU, UK and Scottish levels. Analysis of the relevant PPS and their context within the proposed SPS is set out in Appendix 1. These environmental protection objectives also form the basis for the SEA methodology (see Section 4).


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