Marine compliance: marine authorities and their jurisdiction

Information on authorities and their jurisdiction, both in and out of Scottish territorial waters.

There are a number of authorities operating in and around Scottish waters to ensure compliance with marine and fisheries legislation.

The Marine Scotland directorate of the Scottish Government is responsible for the enforcement of marine and fisheries legislation and ensuring compliance in relation to marine and fisheries offences committed within the Scottish zone out to 200 nautical miles (nm) off Scotland. In some cases, Marine Scotland also has responsibility beyond 200 nm, but within the UK continental shelf limits, and to Scottish registered fishing vessels wherever they may be.

Marine and fisheries offences

Examples of marine and fisheries offences include:

  • fishing without a required licence
  • fishing in a prohibited area
  • illegal discarding of fish
  • depositing objects on the seabed without a marine licence

While Marine Scotland reports suspected marine and fisheries offences to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) for potential prosecution, Police Scotland is responsible for reporting criminal offences.

Criminal offences include actions such as deliberate damage to fishing gear or physical threat committed within the 12 nm territorial sea adjacent to Scotland. 

Beyond territorial waters (12 nm from baselines), the law of the flag state applies and Police Scotland is, with some exceptions, only responsible for criminal offences committed on board a Scottish vessel. 

Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA)

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is responsible for compliance with maritime safety legislation, including the safe operation of a vessel. In the case of those on board non-UK registered vessels committing an offence outwith territorial waters (i.e. beyond 12 nm from baselines), the MCA will report the alleged circumstances to the flag state of the vessel on which the alleged crime has been committed.

Border Force

Border Force is responsible for securing the UK border by carrying out immigration and customs controls for people and goods entering the UK. This involves checking the immigration status of people arriving in and departing from the UK, patrolling the UK coastline and searching vessels, gathering intelligence and alerting the police and security services to people of interest. They also have responsibility for investigating certain concerns around crew welfare.

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