4 Policy framework – aims and purpose (Q1)
Summary of key points:
- Around a fifth (20%) of respondents who submitted substantive responses said they supported the aims and purpose of HPMAs (12% said they supported them strongly), while three-quarters (76%) opposed them (67% said they opposed them strongly). Just 4% of respondents selected ‘neutral’.
- Among organisations, levels of support for the aims and purpose of HPMAs were highest among environmental organisations and organisations in the recreation, tourism and culture sectors. Levels of opposition were highest among fishing organisations; fish selling and processing organisations; community groups; and aquaculture organisations.
- Those who supported HPMAs did so because they saw a need to take urgent action to protect the marine environment, and they believed that HPMAs would be effective in improving marine biodiversity. However, this group also expressed a range of caveats – often related to the potential for adverse impacts on local communities.
- Those who opposed HPMAs gave a range of reasons for their views. These related to: (i) the lack of a scientific basis for establishing HPMAs, (ii) the arbitrary and disproportionate nature of the proposed policy, (iii) the potential for serious socio-economic impacts on island and coastal communities, (iv) the inadequate engagement with stakeholders and local communities, (v) the inconsistency with other Scottish Government and / or international policies, and (vi) the unrealistic and inappropriate timetable proposed for implementation.
4.1 As noted in Chapter 1, the consultation paper sought views on a draft policy framework which set out the Scottish Government’s commitment to designate at least 10% of Scotland’s seas as HPMAs by 2026, and outlined how this commitment could be implemented. The framework summarised the background to the policy, and set out a definition for HPMAs, their aims, and the relationship with the existing MPA network. It then described the proposed HPMA process and how site selection and designation could be put into practice; the proposed treatment of different sectoral activities within HPMAs; proposals relating to monitoring and compliance, and proposals for new legal powers in relation to HPMAs.
4.2 A series of seven questions sought views on the policy framework. This chapter presents an analysis of the views on the first question, which addressed the proposed aims and purpose of HPMAs.
4.3 The HPMA policy framework stated that the designation of 10% of Scotland’s seas as HPMAs is intended to deliver ‘demonstrable benefit to the achievement of the Scottish Government’s vision for the marine environment and to make a significant contribution to the achievement of broader UK, regional and global conservation ambitions’. HPMAs would do this by (i) facilitating ecosystem recovery and enhancement, (ii) enhancing the benefits that coastal communities and others derive from Scotland’s seas, (iii) contributing to the mitigation of climate change impacts, and (iv) supporting ecosystem adaptation and improving resilience, in line with the approach set out in Scotland’s Marine Nature Conservation Strategy. Question 1 asked:
Question 1: What is your view of the aims and purpose of Highly Protected Marine Areas as set out in sections 2 and 3 of the draft Policy Framework [Strongly support / Support / Neutral / Oppose / Strongly oppose] Please explain your answer in the text box.
4.4 Table 4.1 below and Table A1.1 in Annex 1 show the following main points based on the substantive responses:
- Overall, a fifth (20%) of respondents said they supported the aims and purpose of HPMAs (12% said they supported them strongly), while three-quarters (76%) opposed them (67% said they opposed them strongly). Just 4% of respondents selected ‘neutral’.
- Organisations (29%) were more likely to express support for the aims and purpose of HPMAs than individuals (19%); conversely, organisations were less likely to express opposition (65%) than individuals (77%).
- Among organisations, levels of support were highest among environmental organisations (87%). Levels of opposition were highest among fishing organisations (98%), fish selling and processing organisations (88%), community groups (86%) and aquaculture organisations (85%). Organisations in the recreation, tourism and cultural sector and public sector bodies were divided in their views.
|Fishing organisations / groups
|Community organisations and groups
|Recreation, tourism and culture organisations
|Aquaculture organisations / groups
|Public sector bodies including regulators and local authorities
|Fish selling and processing organisations / groups
|Other organisation types
|Total, all respondents
Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.
The table combines those who selected ‘strongly support’ OR ‘support’ into a single category (Support). It also combines those who selected ‘strongly oppose’ OR ‘oppose’ into a single category (Oppose). See Table A1.1 in Annex 1 for a full breakdown of the responses using the 5 original response categories.
4.5 In addition, a large proportion of respondents (304 out of 378) who submitted their views by email or post did not answer the consultation questions. Thus, their views are not included in Table 4.1 above, nor are they included in subsequent tables. However, most expressed clear views on the proposal to establish HPMAs in 10% of Scottish seas. To capture this information, the overall attitude of these respondents towards HPMAs was assessed on the basis of their comments. The responses were then assigned to one of four categories: (i) Support, (ii) Oppose, (iii) Neutral, or (iv) Unclear or mixed. This analysis indicated that, overall, 88% of this group were opposed to the concept, principle, or policy of creating HPMAs in Scottish waters. Individuals were more likely than organisations to express opposition (91% vs 72%, respectively). (See Table A1.2 in Annex 1 for details.)
4.6 Regarding the campaign respondents:
- 2,018 respondents who submitted Scottish Environment LINK campaign responses said that they ‘support the Scottish Government’s proposals to designate at least 10% of Scotland’s seas as Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs)’
- 26 respondents who submitted Shetland postal campaign responses stated that they are ‘utterly opposed to the concept of HPMAs’.
4.7 Question 1 asked specifically for views on the aims and purpose of HPMAs as set out in the draft policy framework. It was clear from the responses, however, that respondents had interpreted the question in different ways. In particular:
- Many of the respondents who answered ‘oppose’ or ‘strongly oppose’ – both organisations and individuals – did not discuss the aims and purpose of HPMAs in their comments. Instead, they explained why they opposed the principle or policy of establishing HPMAs in 10% of Scotland’s seas.
- By contrast, those who answered ‘support’ or ‘strongly support’ at Question 1 generally did discuss their views on the aims and purpose of HPMAs. In most cases, respondents in this group specifically stated that they supported the aims and purpose of HPMAs as set out in the draft policy framework.
4.8 In addition:
- Respondents who opposed HPMAs frequently said that they supported the need to protect and improve the marine environment, but they did not believe that introducing HPMAs and banning all activities (including low-impact activities) from certain areas was an appropriate way to achieve this.
- Respondents who supported the aims and purpose of HPMAs, frequently expressed caveats, or made suggestions about what would need to be put in place to ensure the aims and purpose were achieved in an appropriate way. Some within this group suggested changes to the proposed aims and purpose. It is also worth noting that, very occasionally, respondents (both organisations and individuals) in this group said that they supported the aims and purpose of HPMAs as set out in the draft policy framework, but they did not support HPMAs as the vehicle for achieving these OR their support was contingent upon ensuring that the livelihoods of low-impact fishers were not put at risk.
4.9 These varying interpretations of Question 1 suggest that the findings shown in Table 4.1 are not, in fact, an accurate reflection of (all) respondents’ views on the aims and purpose of HPMAs as described in the draft policy framework.
4.10 The remainder of this chapter provides a high-level summary of respondents’ views on HPMAs. Within this, there will be a discussion about respondents’ views on the aims and purpose of HPMAs.
Views supporting HPMAs
4.11 Organisations and individuals who expressed support for the principle of establishing HPMAs in 10% of Scotland’s seas generally gave one or both of two reasons for their views. This group thought that:
- There is a biodiversity crisis resulting from human activity and an urgent need to intervene (in a ‘radical’ and ‘transformational’ way) to protect the habitats of species that are in decline and / or are critically endangered.
- There is national and international evidence to show that strict levels of marine protection are effective in improving biodiversity.
4.12 The views expressed in relation to these reasons, and a brief summary of other less frequently mentioned reasons, are provided below.
4.13 This group of respondents often explicitly stated that they supported the aims and purpose of HPMAs, but they also frequently highlighted a range of issues which they thought would need to be addressed – in relation to the designation or management of HPMAs – to enable the aims and purpose of HPMAs to be achieved. These issues are also summarised below, and many of these are discussed in greater detail in subsequent chapters of this report.
4.14 Respondents who were in favour of establishing HPMAs argued that marine ecosystems are currently facing both a biodiversity crisis and a climate change crisis. Several environmental organisations pointed to declining populations of Scotland’s wild salmon, sea trout, freshwater pearl mussels (which depend on Atlantic salmon or sea trout for completion of their life cycle), and seabirds (puffins in particular). Others highlighted the degradation of key seabed habitats and the impact of this on organisms such as maerl, mussels, flameshells, tube-building worms and corals. Some respondents also discussed increasing threats to whales and dolphins (due to bycatch, underwater noise, etc.).
4.15 This group considered that, given the current biodiversity crisis, it was vital that a proportion of Scotland’s marine environment should be given ‘robust’ and ‘meaningful’ protection as soon as possible. They saw HPMAs as playing a potentially key role in this, as they would be expected to protect entire marine habitats and feeding areas, rather than an individual species or a particular feature of the seabed.
4.16 The Scottish Environment LINK campaign respondents endorsed these views, saying that ‘urgently restoring ocean health is vital if we are to reverse the interlinked climate and nature emergencies, safeguard our marine environment and secure resources for future generations’.
Evidence indicates the effectiveness of HPMAs
4.17 Respondents who supported the creation of HPMAs often commented that research studies have found that strict levels of protection – rather than measures simply designed to mitigate the impacts of certain activities – have the greatest positive conservation impacts. Organisations in this group repeatedly stated that strictly protected marine areas have consistently been shown to result in ‘ocean recovery zones’ with the benefits spilling over into surrounding waters. These respondents frequently highlighted research from Scotland (specifically in relation to the community-led no-take zone at Lamlash Bay, Arran), the Isle of Man and the Isle of Lundy in the UK, New Zealand, California in the USA, and elsewhere which have demonstrated dramatic improvements in marine biodiversity.
4.18 Scottish Environment LINK campaign respondents echoed these views, stating that ‘evidence shows that strict levels of protection can create ocean recovery zones, helping ecosystems recover and providing benefits to society including increased fish and shellfish populations and opportunities for sustainable fishing.’
Other reasons for supporting the principle of HPMAs
4.19 Occasionally, respondents gave other reasons for supporting the introduction of HPMAs in Scotland’s seas. For example:
- There were concerns among some respondents that there was currently no ‘policing’ or enforcement of protections within the existing MPA network. Those who made this point expected that HPMAs would be enforced.
- HPMAs were seen to offer an opportunity to provide ‘reference areas’ from which ecological recovery rates could be monitored. Those who raised this issue suggested that the potential learning from HPMAs could be used to inform the management of marine areas outside HPMAs.
- The commitment to designate 10% of Scotland’s seas as HPMAs aligns with international commitments made in December 2022 to substantially increase the area of natural ecosystems.
4.20 Respondents of all types who voiced support for HPMAs frequently raised concerns and caveats in their comments. In many cases, these related to issues of site selection and management. These same issues were raised again in relation to subsequent consultation questions and so are not discussed here in detail. However, the list below highlights the key issues raised at Question 1:
- HPMAs must form part of a strategic, coherent, ecosystem-based spatial management plan (or framework) that will not only secure ecological benefit but will also prioritise, support and incentivise a just transition to low-impact sustainable fisheries.
- The draft policy framework and supporting documents said little about how the enhancement of benefits to island and coastal communities would be achieved.
- A balance needs to be struck between the costs of HPMAs for local communities and businesses and the benefits for the marine environment.
- Buffer zones will be needed around HPMAs (where only low-impact fisheries are permitted) to ensure that high-impact fishing does not occur right up to the boundary.
- The designation and design of HPMAs should be underpinned by sound scientific evidence and guided by communities. Sufficient time would need to be allowed for this and there was a question about whether the proposed timescales were adequate.
- Certain recreational activities (and some respondents also suggested that certain low-impact forms of fishing) should be permitted within HPMAs.
- A clear definition is needed of ‘non-damaging activities’ that would be permitted in HPMAs. These should ideally be risk assessed.
- Further information is needed about how HPMAs would be monitored (to determine if they are achieving their aims) and enforced (to ensure compliance with restrictions). Both of these activities will require resources.
4.21 Respondents repeatedly cited the experience of introducing the community-led no-take zone at Lamlash Bay in Arran, highlighting that it took more than 10 years to be established due to the need to engage extensively with the local community and respond to initial public objections. It was suggested that more information should be shared with the public about this type of model to inform marine conservation efforts elsewhere in Scotland’s seas.
Views opposing HPMAs
4.22 Respondents who answered ‘oppose’ or ‘strongly oppose’ at Question 1 often stated explicitly that they recognised the importance of marine conservation, and the need to take steps to protect and improve the biodiversity of Scotland’s seas. Some of these respondents (including public sector organisations) explicitly stated that they supported the aims and purpose set out in the draft policy framework. However, they did not agree that HPMAs were an appropriate mechanism for achieving these.
4.23 The Shetland postal campaign respondents echoed these views, stating that ‘I believe the Scottish fishing industry has proven in the past that they are not opposed to sensible conservation measures, recognising that strong fish stocks and healthy marine ecosystems are in their own interest – and in the interest of sustaining their fishing communities’.
4.24 Indeed, respondents involved in fishing and aquaculture (and related industries) often highlighted the sustainability of their activities and their ongoing commitments to conservation. This group discussed in detail the specific practical measures they have taken voluntarily over a number of years to support conservation aims. They – and individuals living in island and coastal communities – expressed concern that the HPMA policy appeared (in their view) to be based on a mistaken assumption that all forms of fishing are ‘damaging’ and must be ‘banned’ to conserve the marine environment.
4.25 Respondents who expressed opposition to HPMAs repeatedly gave one or more of six reasons for their views:
- There was no scientific justification for establishing HPMAs.
- The proposal to allocate 10% of Scottish seas to HPMAs was arbitrary and disproportionate.
- The policy would have ‘devastating’ social and economic impacts on island and coastal communities.
- There had been inadequate consultation and engagement with stakeholders in developing the proposals.
- The policy of establishing HPMAs was inconsistent with other Scottish Government and / or international policies.
- The timetable for having HPMAs in place (by 2026) was unrealistic and incompatible with due process and good policy-making.
4.26 Each of these reasons is discussed briefly below. A short list of other reasons, raised less often, is given at the end of this section.
No scientific basis for establishing HPMAs
4.27 One of the main recurring themes in the views of respondents who were opposed to the creation of HPMAs was that the proposed policy of establishing HPMAs in 10% of Scotland’s seas had no scientific basis. Instead, respondents in this group believed that a political decision had been made ‘behind closed doors’ to establish HPMAs in 10% of Scotland’s seas, and evidence was then gathered to justify that decision. The policy to establish HPMAs was described as a ‘political trade-off’, based on ‘unsubstantiated assumptions and ideology’ rather than scientific evidence.
4.28 Respondents (both organisations and individuals) made a range of inter-related points:
- It is difficult to know what HPMAs are intended to achieve exactly. Statements in the draft policy framework such as ‘the need to regenerate Scotland’s seas’ implies that Scotland’s seas are degraded, but there was no evidence presented to confirm this. (Note, however, that some public sector bodies – who were also opposed to HPMAs – acknowledged that there is evidence presented in the UK Marine Strategy (2019) and the Scottish Marine Assessment (2020), which indicates that many species and habitats found in Scotland’s seas are in a degraded state.)
- There was no realistic assessment of the likely impacts of the policy on conservation objectives, local businesses or local communities. There was no consideration given to how the displacement of fishing and other activities into surrounding areas would be addressed.
- There was no discussion of how the effects of the policy (positive and negative) would be measured and how its overall success (or failure) would be ascertained. Respondents suggested that a robust scientific methodology would have to be developed to collect data, establish baselines (in relation to all / any relevant indicators – both environmental and socio-economic) and measure changes. In addition, no information was included about what the mechanism would be for reviewing and removing HPMA status where appropriate.
- There is no definition of what constitutes activities at ‘non-damaging levels’ and no indication of how ‘damage’ would be measured. Fishing organisations suggested that, in proposing a complete ban on all fishing within HPMAs, the draft policy framework made the assumption that all forms of fishing must be ‘damaging’, but provided no indication of what damage to which habitats and species was being caused – nor how it compared to damage caused by natural processes (such as waves, storms and tidal currents).
4.29 Those who raised this issue wanted any decisions regarding the management of Scotland’s seas to be clearly based on rigorous scientific evidence and monitoring protocols.
4.30 Shetland postal campaign respondents shared these views, saying that the consultation had provided ‘no scientific evidence as to the need for, or potential effectiveness of, banning fishing / aquaculture activity through HPMAs’. This group thought that the ‘proposals seem to be driven by politics and pledges in the Bute House Agreement, rather than driven by any environmental or conservation imperatives’.
Arbitrary and disproportionate nature of the proposal
4.31 A second very common theme in respondents’ comments was that the proposal to allocate 10% of Scottish seas to HPMAs was both arbitrary (with no reason given for this target) and disproportionate in a number of respects. Respondents (both organisations and individuals) made several points:
- In England, less than 1% of the surrounding seas are to be designated as HPMAs. In comparison, the plan to designate 10% of seas as HPMAs seemed excessive.
- The figure of 10% did not take into account that there are already large areas of Scotland’s seas currently unavailable for fishing – including areas allocated to undersea cables, renewable energy schemes, etc.
- There was concern among some organisations that the 10% of seas proposed for HPMAs would be in addition to the 37% of seas currently comprising the MPA network. These respondents noted that the draft policy framework points to the EU Biodiversity Strategy as the driver for the HPMA policy but that this strategy sets a target of expanding protected areas to cover 30% of the EU’s land and sea area, with ‘strictly protected’ areas covering one third of the 30% of protected areas (or 10% of land and sea area).
- There were concerns that the 10% target would be disproportionately concentrated in Scotland’s inshore waters because (i) there was more scientific evidence available for inshore waters as compared with offshore waters, and (ii) Scotland’s already has devolved powers to be able to legislate to establish HPMAs in inshore waters.
- Some respondents also suggested the displacement of existing inshore fishing would have a disproportionately negative impact on small-scale, low-impact fishers. It was also pointed out that large-scale commercial fishers using large vessels and undertaking high-impact trawling and dredging were much more able to move their activities to other areas compared to small boats and static-gear fishers. In contrast, it was not always viable (practically or financially) for small-scale and static-gear fishers to move their operations from existing sites.
- Finally, community organisations and groups and individual respondents thought that the proposals would have a disproportionately negative impact on island and rural coastal communities, as compared with communities elsewhere on the mainland of Scotland. (See Chapter 7 for further details about respondents’ views on the possible impacts on communities.)
4.32 Respondents urged the Scottish Government to dispense with the arbitrary 10% target.
Social and economic impacts on island / coastal communities
4.33 A third recurring theme in the views of those who were opposed to HPMAs was that the policy, as proposed, would have severe negative social and economic impacts on island and rural coastal communities. Some respondents described these impacts as potentially ‘devastating’ or ‘catastrophic’. This was a particularly strong view from those involved in fishing and aquaculture; community organisations and groups; groups involved in recreation, tourism and culture; local authorities; and individuals. These respondents pointed out that fishing and marine tourism and their associated supply chain businesses are a significant component (in some areas, the largest component) of the rural economy in Scotland. Imposing a blanket ban on all forms of fishing within HPMAs was seen to be unnecessarily restrictive and likely to result in a loss of livelihood for many people. Some suggested that local fishing-related businesses would be ‘decimated’. The knock-on effect of this would lead to people leaving these communities.
4.34 Some respondents who identified themselves as currently employed in fishing and related sectors and marine tourism expressed concerns that their livelihoods and those of their employees and co-workers would be threatened by the proposal to establish HPMAs.
4.35 There was a widespread view among all those who opposed HPMAs that socio-economic wellbeing should be a key indicator in measuring the success of any conservation initiative in Scottish seas, and that socio-economic factors should be prioritised over the achievement of a 10% target.
Inadequate engagement with stakeholders and local communities
4.36 A recurring theme among respondents of all types was that there had been insufficient engagement with key stakeholders – including those in the fishing, aquaculture and related industries, local authorities, and local communities – regarding the proposed introduction of HPMAs.
4.37 Local authorities expressed concerns that the HPMA process had reached what they saw as ‘an advanced stage’ with minimal prior communication or opportunity to learn about the objectives, reasoning, impacts and timescales involved. Respondents from across all sectors were also highly critical of the lack of sufficient engagement with stakeholders who would be directly affected by the policy. Some highlighted the positive levels of engagement that had contributed to the development of MPAs and Priority Marine Features (PMFs).
4.38 Respondents repeatedly called for ‘meaningful’ engagement with stakeholders and local communities before any HPMA sites are proposed.
Inconsistency with other Scottish Government and / or international policies
4.39 Respondents who were opposed to the creation of HPMAs often pointed out contradictions in the consultation paper (for example, stating that ‘Scotland’s seas are among the most biologically diverse in Europe’, but then suggesting that urgent action is needed to support the ‘recovery and resilience’ of those same seas). In addition, they highlighted perceived conflicts between the HPMA policy and a range of other Scottish, UK and international legislation, policies and initiatives. Examples mentioned most often were:
- ‘Just transition’ (also part of the Bute House Agreement): It was suggested that this should be included as a fundamental principle of HPMAs. The impact on all sectors needs to be considered before sites are proposed and there needs to be clarity on the expected impacts and subsidies / compensation that will be made available to those affected.
- The National Islands Plan and the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018: The proposal does not comply with the duty to improve and promote sustainable economic development, health and wellbeing or community empowerment in island communities.
- The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14.b: This states that access to fishing opportunities for small-scale and artisan fishers should be protected.
- Section 25 of the UK Fisheries Act 2020: This places a duty on national fisheries authorities (when distributing quotas for use by fishing boats) to incentivise the use of fishing techniques that have a reduced impact on the environment (for example that use less energy or cause less damage to habitats).
4.40 Less often, respondents mentioned a range of other national strategies and plans that they thought the HPMA policy was either inconsistent with or had not sufficiently taken into account, including: the National Strategy for Economic Transformation (NSEF), the Marine Tourism Strategy, Scotland’s Population Strategy which is supported by the ‘place-based approach’ set out in the fourth National Planning Framework, and Scotland’s National Plan for Industrial Biotechnology.
4.41 Like respondents who were in favour of HPMAs, those who were opposed often highlighted a need for a more strategic approach to managing Scotland’s marine environment. (See paragraph 4.20, point 1 above.) However, those who were in favour of HPMAs talked about the need for a comprehensive ecosystem-based spatial marine management plan, whereas those who were opposed to HPMAs talked about the need for an ecosystems-based management plan for fisheries, in particular – as required by the Fisheries Act 2020.
4.42 Unlike the former group, which thought that HPMAs should be developed as part of a comprehensive plan, the latter thought that such a plan could be developed in lieu of HPMAs or they thought this plan was needed before any HPMAs were identified.
Unrealistic, inappropriate timetable
4.43 Some (particularly organisational) respondents commented that the timetable committed to in the Bute House Agreement is entirely inadequate to collect robust scientific evidence, engage with stakeholders and local communities, and examine the potential impacts and solutions to underpin the process of identifying HPMA sites. There was a suggestion that this timeframe was ‘incompatible with due process and good policy-making’ and would ultimately result in limiting input from the key stakeholders and community members who would be most affected by the policy.
Other comments made by those opposing HPMAs
4.44 In addition, respondents who opposed HPMAS occasionally made other comments. A recurring theme was that substantial resources will be required for management, compensation, and enforcement activity. Respondents said that HPMAs will fail because they are excessively bureaucratic, expensive, and labour intensive.
Different approaches to marine conservation
4.45 Some organisations and individuals who were opposed to HPMAs suggested that, as there is no universally agreed definition of what an HPMA is, ‘we should take the opportunity to ensure that the definition we use is fit for purpose in Scotland’. Others suggested that inadequate consideration had been given to alternative ways of protecting the seas which would better promote the sustainability of island and coastal communities. In some cases, respondents made specific suggestions about other types of approaches. This material has been gathered together into the final chapter of this report.
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