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 2. Methodological approach

2.1 Rationale for methodological approach

This study focuses on potential impacts of MPAs for the fishing industry, seafood processing, aquaculture and tourism, as these are the main marine industries that might be affected by MPAs and associated management measures on the west coast of Scotland. Wider impacts on coastal communities are explored through discussions with local authorities and community groups, as well as stakeholders from the groups described above.

A mixed methodological approach was used for this study to bring together both quantitative and qualitative data to comprehensively explore the socio-economic impacts of MPA measures in Scotland. This included analysis of:

  • Existing quantitative fishing activity data that is held by Marine Scotland (collected for other purposes).
  • Existing quantitative data on fisheries employment and compliance held by Marine Scotland (collected for other purposes).
  • Qualitative data collected through interviews with key informants and stakeholders in communities affected by MPAs during a period of fieldwork in September 2019.
  • Short, structured interviews carried out with members of the general public and local businesses in four case study areas during the fieldwork period.
  • Findings from relevant questions in the Marine Social Attitudes survey conducted in 2018.

The marine environment and the industries and communities that depend on it are complex and influenced by a number of factors. For this reason, it can be difficult to identify changes in marine industries and communities, to understand the causes of these changes and to confidently attribute them to new interventions, such as MPA management measures.

The methodological approach, therefore, sought to address each of these issues in the following ways:

Identify changes

Analysis of quantitative data, such as fish landings and employment, was used to identify trends that might be related to MPAs. Quantitative data for other industries, was not available at the spatial scale required.

Qualitative evidence from in-depth, semi-structured interviews and short, structured interviews with key informants and stakeholders was used to identify changes that may not be captured in existing quantitative data.

Understand changes

Interviews gave us a more in depth understanding of the observed changes. Through this analysis we could determine why and how behaviours are changing in relation to MPA management measures, and whether there are other factors underpinning some of the changes observed.

Attribute changes to MPAs

Attributing changes to interventions is difficult, especially in complex social systems. In this review, three methods were used to increase confidence in the links made between observed changes and MPA management measures. These are:

1. The control group

To determine which of the observed changes are due to MPAs, ideally communities near MPAs would be compared with a similar community, far from MPAs. The inshore Nature Conservation MPAs that are the focus of this research are distributed across the west coast of Scotland. There are no MPAs in inshore waters on the east coast of Scotland, and so this area could be used as a control. Another method, often used, is to look at a population before and after an intervention and explore any changes identified. Many of the characteristics of the population in question, and the factors that affect it, should be the same allowing the effect of the intervention to be assessed.

Neither of these methods can be entirely accurate, however. Fishing practices on the east coast are different to those used in the west coast and so drawing accurate comparisons is difficult. A 'before and after' comparison may include the impacts of changes in other factors affecting the fishing industry, such as biological trends, changing consumer preferences or changes in weather patterns, and so may also lead to inaccuracies in clearly assessing the impact of the MPA management measures. In this research, these two approaches are combined to build up a clearer picture of changes associated with MPA management measures enabling greater confidence to be drawn from the conclusions.

2. Triangulation

Using a mixed method approach enables the same issues to be explored using different datasets and analyses as well as allowing us to compare results to see if they match. For example, changes in landings reported in the interviews can be compared with analysis of existing landings datasets held by Marine Scotland.

3. Corroboration

New stakeholders were contacted and interviewed until saturation was reached i.e. the same names were being suggested repeatedly by respondents. This gives us confidence in the sample. Themes were coded and reported based on the frequency with which they were raised by stakeholders and stakeholder groups. The same issues being raised by multiple respondents can give us confidence in the importance of that issue - especially when it is raised by respondents from a range of locations of stakeholder groups.

Data availability

Most of the quantitative data analysed in this study related to the fisheries sector and not to other sectors. This is because Marine Scotland holds datasets relating to fishing activity at a fine enough scale and over a time frame long enough to link to MPA management measures. Quantitative data was not available for other sectors, at a spatial scale or time frame appropriate for exploring the impacts of MPAs.

For other sectors it was necessary to depend more heavily on primary data collected through interviews.

The Marine Social Attitudes survey explored the views of the Scottish public with regard to the marine environment, including MPAs. It included postcode data, enabling finer scale analysis.

2.2 Quantitative Data

A wide range of datasets were included within the analyses, including:

Fishing activity data

Dataset description

Marine Scotland collects data on the tonnage and target species of vessel landings, as well as information about the main gear type used, the vessel length and the voyage start and end times. Vessels over 12 metres in length are also fitted with a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS), which sends out a signal indicating the vessel location every 2 hours. Vessels under 10 metres in length are required to fill in Fish1[7] forms, indicating the location where most of their fishing activity took place.

Only the VMS data has been analysed for this project as the Fish1 forms do not provide data for the entirety of the period of interest, having only been used since 2017. The under 10 metre vessels are most likely to use static gear (either creel or hand-diving) as their main gear type, and so, for the most part, are unlikely to be directly affected by MPA management measures, as these fishing practices are subject to fewer restrictions.


Landings data was analysed to show trends over time at the level of ICES rectangle and at port district level. This data includes landings from over, and under 10 m vessels and all gear types.

The ICES rectangles are the smallest geographic areas for which fishing activity data can be disaggregated. ICES rectangles are areas of the sea defined by ICES that are approximately 30 nautical miles by 30 nautical miles. They have codes based on a grid reference e.g. '41E7'.

This review has examined fishing activity in ICES rectangles containing MPAs, to explore trends in landings for the main fish species targeted by gears that are most affected by MPA management measures. These are Nephrops, either trawled or creeled, and scallops, either dredged or hand-dived. Landings from rectangles containing MPAs have been analysed for changes relative to a 2013-2015 baseline (i.e. pre implementation of MPA management measures). These changes were presented with reference to MPA management measures to see if the patterns were consistent.

At the port district level, landings were also analysed for changes relative to a 2013-2015 baseline. Port districts near MPAs (west coast) were compared to those that are not near MPAs (east coast). In this way we can begin to see whether observed changes are unique to MPA areas.

VMS data was used to determine which vessels fished in or near MPAs, in 2014 and 2015, before management measures were introduced. This enabled our analysis to focus on vessels which fished inside the MPA and would be expected to be most affected by management measures. The amount of time that these vessels spent at fishing speeds within MPA boundaries was determined and averaged for the two-year period. With this information it was possible to categorise vessels based on the extent to which they could be said to depend on the fishing grounds within the MPAs. Landings data for these vessels was then analysed for the 2013-2018 period to establish any changes since the introduction of MPAs in 2016. This analysis should indicate whether vessels which fished in MPAs were impacted by management measures.

Compliance data

Marine Scotland's Compliance Division collect data on the number of reports of suspected incursions into MPAs, and the number and type of enforcement outcomes. Compliance also has information about the level of monitoring carried out by the different types of Marine Protection Vessel. This data is presented to indicate the extent to which the management measures of MPAs have been complied with and thus the degree to which results of this research are related to management measures.

Social Attitudes Survey data

Marine Scotland commissioned research to improve understanding of how Scottish residents interact with the marine environment (sea and coastal areas), their perceptions of how it should be managed and their environmental concerns, amongst other issues. Data was collected using an online questionnaire administered to a representative sample of Scottish residents. Two of the survey questions covered the subject of MPAs, and the results are presented in this report.

2.3 Qualitative Data

Qualitative data was collected through key informant interviews, stakeholder interviews, and short structured interviews with business owners and members of the public. A review of ethics and data protection considerations was carried out, to ensure that the research adhered to the robust ethical standards and duties expected of Scottish Government social research, and in order to comply with legal obligations.

The main issues that needed to be considered related to GDPR, privacy and the need to obtain informed consent for recording the interviews.

Key informant interviews

Marine Scotland conducted in-depth interviews with key informants from the following sectors:

  • industry representatives of the commercial fishing sector,
  • representatives of the seafood processing sector,
  • local authorities,
  • tourism and community groups.

Compliance officers for each area near an MPA were also interviewed to get an overview of their perspectives on changes experienced since the implementation of the MPA management measures.

Key informants were selected from a list of individuals and organisations who represented groups who may have been impacted by MPAs, or who had engaged with processes to designate MPA sites and to develop the MPA management measures. The list of key informants was checked and added to by the Research Advisory Group. A list of the main stakeholder organisations represented is provided at Annex 2. The interviews were semi-structured and conducted largely face to face with some done by telephone. See Annex 3 for the list of interview questions.

Twenty-eight key informant interviews were carried out in total, each lasting approximately 30-90 minutes.

The aim of the key informant interviews was to get an overview of observed positive or negative socio-economic changes following the introduction of MPA management measures. They were also used to provide information to assist with the selection of case study areas.

The interviews provided in-depth qualitative information from representative members of the industries and groups which may have been impacted by MPAs. Such information sheds light on the context and motivations behind the results generated through the analysis of quantitative data described in other sections

Case studies

Four case study MPAs were selected to enable an area specific analysis of the impacts of individual MPAs on the businesses and communities closest to them.

The case study areas were chosen using a set of criteria to ensure that a good range of types of issues relating to MPAs were covered. The criteria were developed using information from the key informant interviews as well as preliminary analysis of fishing data and were agreed by the Research Advisory Group.

The criteria identified were:

  • Perceptions or evidence of compliance issues in an area,
  • Controversial designation of the site or concerns expressed during the consultation,
  • Type of activity prohibited in the area (to get a range),
  • Any evidence of changes in fishing fleet composition and/or activity,
  • Any changes in port registration or landings near the MPA,
  • Other marine developments nearby,
  • Potential for, or existence of, tourism in the area,
  • Existence of active community groups in the area.

At the end of this process the following sites were chosen:

  • South Arran MPA - chosen because it covers a large area, where a lot of fishing takes place, and so there was potential for impacts on the fishing industry. Static gear fishing is prohibited in some zones. There is also an active community group associated with the MPA. The site is considered to be controversial.
  • Wester Ross MPA - chosen because the site was controversial to begin with, but now less so. There is value in exploring reasons for this change. There are active community groups in the area. There are also aquaculture sites, so cumulative impacts can be explored.
  • Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura MPA - chosen because it covers a large area where a lot of fishing took place, and so there was potential for impacts to the fishing industry. Marine tourism is well established in the area and so there were potential implications for tourism associated with the MPA.
  • Orkney (Sanday SAC and Wyre and Rousay Sound MPA) - chosen because it was not controversial and impacts on fishing were not expected. However, a range of marine industries use the inshore waters around Orkney and there was potential for cumulative impacts.

Three respondent groups were targeted in each case study area: individual stakeholders, local business owners and members of the general public.

Individual stakeholder interviews

In each case study area stakeholder interviews were undertaken with a selection of respondent groups who were identified as having the potential to be impacted in some way by MPAs. In the same way as the key informant interviews, they provided an in-depth understanding of the issues discussed. They tended to be more personal, however, describing individual experiences and reflections, rather than providing insights about the community.

Key informants were asked to provide introductions to stakeholders in the relevant area. Subsequently, a form of snowball sampling was used to identify further stakeholders. This method involved asking each stakeholder to suggest further stakeholders who might be relevant. This process continued until saturation was reached i.e. the same names came up repeatedly, or time ran out.

We made numerous attempts to contact community councils and other local groups in each area, but were unsuccessful. It is often difficult to contact members of the public who are not part of an interest group.

Using advice from the Research Advisory Group, Key Informants and Compliance officers, who are all active within communities and sectors linked to MPAs, we aimed to engage with all those who might be affected by MPAs, including those who might not have been aware of, or engaged with the process.

Like the key informant interviews, stakeholder interviews were semi-structured and conducted by telephone or face-to-face. See Annex 4 for the questions used.

Short structured interviews with members of the public

It is important to understand how members of the public, including those living around MPAs, feel about them together with the other marine activities taking place in the area. It is also important to explore whether members of the public have been impacted by the introduction of MPAs and what they understand of the impacts felt by other groups.

To this end, in each case study area, members of the public were approached and asked to complete short, structured interviews. See Annex 5 for the questions asked. A convenience sampling approach was used i.e. people were approached on the high-street or in busy areas of the towns we visited. Although this approach does not ensure a representative sample, it enabled us to quickly gain some insight into the views of the general public.

Short structured interviews with local businesses

Although some industries may be directly impacted by MPAs, both positive and negative indirect impacts may be felt by other businesses located in areas close to MPAs. In each case study area, businesses on the local high street were approached and asked to complete a short structured interview. See Annex 6 for the questions asked. Each business on the high-street was approached, and those that agreed were interviewed. As above, this is a form of convenience sampling, and was considered an appropriate way to quickly gain some insight into the views of this group.

Both the general public and business short structured interview guides are available in Annex 5 Annex 6. Note that in both, the questions were designed to align with those asked in the Social Attitudes Survey, the findings of which are provided in section 5.4. Neither survey obtained a large enough sample to be considered robustly representative of each local area, but the results give an indication of the attitudes of people and business owners living near MPAs.

Interview Data analysis

The key informant and stakeholder interviews were transcribed and imported into NVIVO software.[8] This software allows respondents to be classified according to chosen characteristics e.g. sector, MPA of interest, and allows interview data to be coded according to themes such as "loss of sheltered grounds" or "environmental benefits". In this way one can determine which themes were most common across different groups of respondents.

An emergent broad coding framework was produced by the researchers based on first impressions of the main themes that arose during fieldwork interviews. This was refined during the coding process and was reviewed at the end to ensure that the coding was consistent throughout.

Structured interview analysis

General public and business interview data was entered into an MS Excel spreadsheet. Both structured interviews explored respondents' level of understanding, attitudes and perceptions of MPAs. These responses were grouped together and analysed so that they could be compared with the Social Attitudes Survey results.

The other responses to the questionnaire were imported into NVIVO so that they could be analysed by theme. The sample size was not large enough to be suitable for quantitative analysis.



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