Section 9. Overarching conclusions
The analysis of fishing activity and fish landings data, together with evidence from key informant interviews and case studies suggested that there had been both localised positive and negative impacts linked to MPA management measures.
Landings to ports near MPAs have mostly declined from 2016-2018 with the same trend reflected in landings from some ICES rectangles containing MPAs.
Trawl vessels which had fished within MPA boundaries before management measures were introduced are now catching less from ICES rectangles containing MPAs, and are compensating for this by fishing more heavily in other rectangles, further from MPAs. Total landings for these vessels were found to have remained the same, or were higher, apart from those which had been particularly heavy users of the fishing grounds within MPAs, whose landings reduced by approximately 12% on average. Landings from dredge vessels which had fished within MPA boundaries showed a decline from 2013-2018, with a steeper decline post 2016. This suggests that other factors are affecting dredged scallop landings on the west coast, but that MPAs may be a contributing factor.
There has been a slight increase in total employment on static gear vessels, and a decrease on trawl and dredge vessels on the west coast of Scotland. This trend is clearest and most pronounced in particular areas where the magnitude of the change was greater.
These findings were corroborated by the interview data, where respondents reported similar trends, but offered more of an explanation. Declines in landings were attributed to reduced access to sheltered fishing grounds as a result of MPA designations, and fishers reported changing their practices in response. Many were fishing in other grounds, some had bought bigger vessels to enable them to travel further and withstand harsher weather conditions, while others had diversified to creel fishing, and a few had either downgraded or sold up.
Static gear fishers reported having greater access to the grounds within MPAs, and felt more secure fishing these areas without the risk of gear conflict. Some had expanded their businesses and taken on more crew.
It was common for respondents to discuss other related topics which helped to explain, highlight or contextualise more direct impacts. Many fishers described the shortage of crew as being an important issue, in some cases the most important issue, facing them. Most of the communities in question are rural and remote and can suffer from depopulation, which some linked to the shortage of crew.
Other issues were raised through the study, such as access to markets, the quota system, fluctuating prices, cumulative impacts from other industries, and the changing environment. The impacts of these issues interact and, for some, may compound the impacts of MPA management measures.
Potential impacts of MPA management measures on other marine industries, namely seafood processing, aquaculture and tourism, were also explored. Seafood processors tended to be affected in similar ways to fishers and responded in similar ways. Those who had been affected were particularly concerned about their ability to retain staff. It was harder to quantify impacts on other marine industries as data is not available at a fine enough spatial scale.
The main impacts described by those from aquaculture was the increased complexity of planning applications. These were said to be more costly and time consuming. Respondents described delays in receiving responses, which were said to delay developments, leading to financial losses.
With regards to tourism, respondents felt that the MPAs have had a positive impact, providing additional tourist attractions for areas nearby. Respondents felt that environmental protection would enhance marine tourism opportunities in the future, regardless of whether businesses used the MPA directly.
Community groups and other organisations have developed or galvanised around the MPAs. These groups have organised a large array of activities and events aimed at raising awareness and educating the public about marine conservation and promoting the rich diversity of their local inshore waters. They have collaborated on numerous research projects in order to gather data and improve understanding of the environmental impacts of MPAs.
Respondents mentioned seeing improvements in the marine environment, which they attributed to MPAs. Many stated that this was the most important positive impact of MPAs and described feelings of hope and inspiration at the thought of the improvements that were possible and what that could mean for their local area.
According to the Social Attitudes Survey, and the short structured interviews, the general public tended to be supportive of MPAs, although it should be noted that people were often unsure what they were.
The research presented in this report was carried out in August and September 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic. There have been serious consequences for coastal communities and industries as a result of the pandemic. These are likely to have exacerbated many of the struggles described in this report.
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