Garbage at sea picked up by local boats: EIR release

Information request and response under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004.

Information requested

What Marine Scotland and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) are doing to stop litter originating from Spanish and French vessels in our waters.


The disposal of litter and fishing gear at sea is prohibited by the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) Regulations, implemented in the UK with The Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Pollution by Garbage from Ships) Regulations 2020. In UK waters these regulations are enforced by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). Scottish Government’s Marine Scotland Compliance Officers report incidents through their intelligence system to the MCA and periodically remind vessels of their obligations under MARPOL.

Intelligence relating to suspicious activities by vessels in Scotland’s marine environment can be reported to Marine Scotland Compliance using the online reporting form at We would encourage all such reports to be made this way, in order for them to be logged and investigated properly.

If you wish to find out what action the MCA are taking to address this issue, you can contact them directly at or

In February 2019 we hosted the British-Irish Council Marine Litter Symposium to discuss solutions with other administrations, fishers and experts, making commitments to improve the collection and recycling of end of life fishing gear and improve marine litter education in the sector.

Since then, we have undertaken considerable research to develop an inventory for fishing and aquaculture gear and to analyse waste management policy options. A joint UK-wide report was published by DEFRA on 9 March 2022, the report can be accessed at Defra, UK - Science Search.

This research will support the development of fishing gear waste management schemes, with our fishing industry contributing to our circular economy and preventing further marine plastic pollution from these sources.

We are supporting the development of a European standard for circular gear design. This aims to reduce the environmental impact of plastic gear during its entire lifespan, supporting reuse and improving recycling opportunities.

In addition, we are working with our main fishing ports to ensure that fishers are able to dispose of waste responsibly, encouraging recycling where possible and enabling the landing of bulky end of life fishing gear. This aligns with the revised EU Port Reception Facilities Directive which includes extending the availability of waste disposal facilities beyond general shipping to all vessels, including members of fishing fleets.

Our ports and harbours have an important role to play. That is why we also fund KIMO UK’s Fishing for Litter scheme involving almost 300 Scottish vessels and assisting with the landing of over 1800 tonnes of waste caught passively in nets at sea, while encouraging improved waste management practices aboard.

But this issue is an international one, and it is therefore very important that we work with other administrations. We support improved waste management in other administrations through participating North East Atlantic countries in OSPAR, and also through the Global Ghost Gear Initiative and KIMO international.

Finally, A Marine Litter Strategy for Scotland was published in 2014 and sets out a co-ordinated approach to address the amount of litter entering the marine environment, to achieve ecological, economic and social benefits. The strategy has been reviewed and the consultation on the updated strategy closed on 22 March 2022. A consultation report will be published on our website in the coming months.

The refreshed strategy builds upon the original themes of behaviour change, reducing sources of litter, improving monitoring, and working internationally. Actions will focus on the prevention of litter reaching the marine environment, and have been widened to better support the removal of marine litter. The strategy contains several actions on fishing and aquaculture gear.

I hope this reply is helpful, and that you are assured that we are working hard to tackle marine litter from all sources, including marine industries.

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