Monitoring the socio-economic impacts of Marine Protected Areas: report

This report, on the socio-economic impacts of MPAs, found that there had been localised positive and negative impacts on coastal communities and industries, linked to MPA management measures.

Section 1. Introduction and Background

This report provides an assessment of evidence of the socio-economic impacts of Scotland's Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas (NCMPA)[2] since management measures were introduced in 2016.

The first round of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were designated on the 7th August 2014 to protect nationally important species, habitats and geology across Scotland's seas. Management measures were introduced for some inshore MPAs on 8 February and 23 March 2016, respectively, following a period of public consultation.[3],[4]

The management measures are thought to potentially impact a wide range of marine sectors and users, with most significant impacts predicted to affect fishing activity in several MPA sites and with knock on effects for wider seafood industries as well as other marine users. Scottish Ministers have, therefore, committed to monitor and report on the socio-economic impact of management measures to ensure that appropriate actions might be taken to mitigate any severe impacts on marine users and support emergent sectors and opportunities.

In 2016 research on the emerging evidence on the social impacts of Scotland's MPAs was carried out.[5] The work did not find any evidence, at a national level, of significant positive or negative socio-economic impacts linked to MPA management measures that were introduced in February and March of that year. Nonetheless, issues and concerns were identified in the report and it was recommended that further monitoring should be carried out in two to three years. It was noted that at the time of the research (2016), the MPA management measures had only been in place for a short period and it was felt that both positive and negative impacts may develop over time.

This assessment aims to provide Scottish Ministers with evidence of the observed positive and negative socio-economic impacts of MPA management measures, across sites in Scotland, three years post implementation. The project objectives are to:

  • Further develop the methodology used in the first MPA socio-economic monitoring report with second phase analysis,
  • Gather, update and analyse new evidence on the positive and negative socio-economic impacts of MPA management measures three years post-implementation,
  • Provide Scottish Ministers with the existing evidence of the positive and negative socio-economic impacts of MPAs.


The purpose of Nature Conservation MPAs is to protect rare, representative and productive species, habitats and geology across Scotland's marine environment so that the rich diversity of life in the waters around Scotland and the benefits they bring can be enjoyed both now and in the future.

Scotland's seas provide nurseries and feeding grounds for species that are critical to the marine ecosystem and dependent maritime industries, including commercial fish species. Kelp, seagrass forests and offshore reefs help reduce the effects of storms by acting as a physical buffer. Healthy seas are more resilient to the impacts of climate change, as well as contributing to climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration.

Protecting rare, threatened, declining, or nationally representative species and habitats is important for their own sake, but also for the wide range of benefits they provide. These benefits are not only important for Scotland and the UK, but also for the world. There are, therefore, a number of legal frameworks and agreements that coordinate and govern the protection of seas at a national and international level.

Marine Scotland has duties and commitments to designate an ecologically coherent network under the following Acts and international agreements:

  • the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010.
  • the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.
  • the OSPAR Convention.
  • the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).
  • the Convention on Biological Diversity.
  • the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

The 2009 and 2010 Acts require Marine Scotland, in designating a network, to have regard to a number of issues set out in the legislation, including the extent to which designation in Scotland would contribute to a UK network. The MPA network in Scotland's seas is designed to conserve a selection of marine biodiversity (species and habitats) and geodiversity (the variety of landforms and natural processes that underpin the marine landscapes). Marine Scotland has various powers to protect these special habitats and species, also known as protected features.

Thirty NCMPAs were designated in August 2014 following two public consultation exercises in 2013 and 2014. Following this, management measures were proposed for 10 inshore NC MPAs, and 9 inshore Special Areas of Conservation (SACs),[6] which were subject to public consultation over the following year (Figure 1.1). Management measures were introduced for some inshore MPAs on 8 February and 23 March 2016. These new management measures particularly affect fishing activity in a number of MPA sites, while other marine users were already affected since MPAs were designated in August 2014, due to the protective provisions of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. For SACs, the provisions of Article 6 of the EU Habitats Directive have applied to other marine activities since designation. This means that the MPAs are considered during the licensing process when potential impacts on protected areas are assessed and where necessary mitigated, before the regulator gives consent. It is also possible that onshore industries, such as processing or vessel maintenance, may be indirectly affected by these designations and their associated management measures.

Figure 1.1 Spatial distribution of Marine Protected Areas in Scotland
Figure description below

Figure description:

Map of Nature Conservation MPAs and Special Areas of Conservation in Scotland. MPAs or SACs where fisheries management measures exist are marked in dark blue. MPAs or SACs which have been designated but do not have fisheries management measures are shaded in pale blue. Most of the MPAs, especially those with fisheries management measures are located in the inshore waters on the west coast of Scotland.

Structure of report

Following the introduction and background section (Section 1), the second section (Section 2) of the report summarises the methodological approach used to assess socio-economic impacts of MPAs in Scotland.

This is then followed by four sections describing the research findings:

Section 3. Socio-economic impacts on the Fishing Industry

This section considers the direct impact of the management measures on the fishing industry. This section forms a major part of the report and is divided into two subsections. The first sub-section is an analysis of relevant quantitative data to capture any impacts on fishing activity as a result of the MPA management measures. The second section presents qualitative data covering views and experiences of key informants and stakeholders on how MPAs have impacted on fishing businesses and communities in areas local to the MPAs.

Section 4. Socio-economic impacts on other key industries

Section 4 covers the socio-economic impacts on other important marine industries situated in coastal communities in areas affected by MPAs. These are seafood processing, aquaculture and marine tourism. These industries may experience socio-economic impacts due to the introduction of MPAs either as the result of the designation or as a consequence of changes in fishing activity, landings or employment.

Section 5. Wider social impacts on local areas

Section 5 presents the perspectives of local businesses and communities and considers some of the wider socio-economic impacts of the MPAs being introduced. These include perspectives that could be associated with the more immediate changes in the marine environment and marine industries. This section also presents data on public attitudes and awareness of MPAs.

Section 6: Wider Context

Section 6 summarises the cumulative impacts of marine developments in areas near MPAs, in order to illustrate the complexity in which marine industries and their communities operate. It also sets out wider challenges that marine industries face such as those seen on the global level. The introduction of MPAs is just one of a wider set of challenges facing marine stakeholders. In some cases, MPAs may have a minimal direct impact but if evaluated in combination with other existing challenges, they can exert a greater, cumulative strain than might be immediately apparent.

The final sections of the report are:

Section 7: Case Studies

Section 7 presents brief summaries of the four case study areas which are used to illustrate the impact of MPAs in a specific geographic area.

Section 8: Compliance

The compliance section sets out some data to demonstrate how effectively the restrictions and MPA measures are being complied with.

Section 9: Conclusion

The report ends with a brief conclusion summarising the key issues identified throughout the report.



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