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 4. Socio-economic impacts on other key industries

This section covers the socio-economic impacts experienced by other key marine industries, located on the west coast of Scotland, which are impacted by the MPA measures in different ways. A range of positive and negative impacts are identified which relate directly to changes in the marine environment, as well as the indirect effects of changes in fishing activity and legislative changes associated with MPA management measures.

The following section will explore the positive and negative impacts experienced by three marine industries:

  • Seafood processing
  • Aquaculture
  • Marine tourism

Most of the evidence described in the section comes from the interviews carried out during fieldwork. Where relevant, analysis of other data sources is also presented.

Summary of findings

Seafood processing

Many seafood processors echoed the views of fishers. This is unsurprising given the close link between the industries.

  • A third of the processors interviewed stated that the volume of produce landed to them had reduced, and that this meant a reduction in their profits.
  • One of these attributed this decline to the MPAs, while others said that they were only a contributing factor.

Processors described responding to the changes caused by MPA management measures in several ways including:

  • Some said they had invested in new vessels as a means of guaranteeing supplies to their factory, but others were avoiding making such investments as they considered it too risky.
  • A few processors described changing the produce they process or the markets to which they sell to reduce their reliance on areas containing MPAs, as well as increase their profits.

A large number of respondents from seafood processing discussed issues around staffing, which they directly related to reductions in landings. Some were making efforts to retain staff, as they considered themselves to be an important source of employment in the local area. In some instances, however, respondents described having to lay people off, reduce working hours or pay people less.


The main direct impact highlighted by respondents from aquaculture was that the designation of an MPA near an existing or potential development increases the complexity of planning applications, the time and effort needed to prepare them and the time required for local authorities to process them.

Applications may require more extensive surveys which, in turn, are more costly and time consuming. Respondents described delays in obtaining responses from local authorities. These delays can have financial implications for aquaculture companies as developments have a long lead in time, requiring early preparation and investment. Potential employment opportunities may also be delayed at a cost to the local community.

Marine Tourism

The importance of MPAs for marine tourism was an important theme in interviews. Respondents highlighted:

  • the importance of a pristine and healthy environment for tourism in Scotland, and marine tourism, in particular,
  • the value of wildlife tourism for rural and remote areas in Scotland, such as those near MPAs.

A fairly large number of respondents from the tourist industry described the MPAs as a tourist attraction with some stating that their businesses had started or improved as a result of MPAs, while others now cite them as part of their unique selling point (USP). A wide range of businesses were described including Bed & Breakfast, kayak tours, boat trips, recreational angling and seafood vendors.

A large number of respondents felt that MPAs were not sufficiently publicised and that more should be done to promote them. In addition to those who used the MPAs as part of their business, there was a large number who knew little of the MPAs but expressed a desire to know more.

In addition to the benefits of tourism for rural areas, respondents also highlighted that employment in this industry is often seasonal, part-time and poorly paid. They felt it was important for tourism to be one part of a diverse and resilient local economy.

Recreational angling was mentioned as an important industry which may recover as a result of MPAs.

4.1 Seafood Processing

Seafood processing in Scotland is largely based in the North East, the Highlands and Islands and on the west coast, and makes a significant contribution to the local economies in these areas. In the north east, the industry works mainly with sea caught fish and shellfish. In the Highlands and on the west coast, it is most often focused on processing Atlantic salmon and other farmed fish and shellfish. In this study we focus on shellfish or mixed processors, predominantly located on the west coast of Scotland, as these are most likely to be affected by MPA management measures.

Seafood processors depend on a constant supply of produce to keep their businesses going. A reduction in landings can have knock on effects for seafood processors.

In 2017, seafood processing in Scotland generated £392 million GVA, accounting for 0.29% of the overall Scottish economy and 8% of the marine economy GVA. Seafood processing provided employment for 7,700 people (headcount), contributing 0.3% to total Scottish employment and 10% to marine economy employment.

In 2018, Scotland had 139 seafood processing sites (i.e. individual factories or facilities for processing fish), approximately 39% of the UK total. Seafish regional data at NUTS (Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics) Level 3 provides information about sites on the west coast of Scotland in Table 4.1.

Table 4.1 Average employment, income and costs for seafood processing sites in regions near MPAs, according to Seafish regional data
Region No. Sites Average employment per site Average income per site (£'M) Average operating costs per site (£'M) Regional GVA (£'M)
Caithness and Sutherland and Ross and Cromarty 9 40 5.6 5 11
Eilean Siar (Western Isles) 9 28 12.8 10.5 35
Lochaber, Skye and Lochalsh, Arran and Cumbrae, Argyll and Bute 17 24 6.5 5.6 29

Seafood processing: Interview findings

Nine seafood processors were interviewed. Four of these were most impacted by the South Arran MPA, while the Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura and Wester Ross MPAs were each of primary concern to a further two processors. One processer was based in Orkney and so was impacted by the MPAs in that area.

A large portion of what the processors said echoed the accounts of the fishers. They described a shrinking of fishing grounds and the loss of sheltered fishing grounds, in particular, displacement of vessels into smaller areas, and concern over increased pressure on fishing grounds. These factors were all felt to be linked to a decrease in landings to the processing factory.

The key issues that were raised by seafood processors are discussed below.

Lost profits

Three processors said that their earnings had decreased in the last few years. Two of these quoted figures, which were in the region of £400,000 - £500,000. These losses were attributed to a reduction in the volume of shellfish landed to the factory, due to the reasons described above and in previous sections.

Two processors highlighted that the MPAs were only a contributing factor and not the sole reason for the reduced landings and loss of profits; however, another felt that their experience of loss of profits was entirely due to the MPA management measures.

Change in investment and business decisions

Six processors mentioned that they were changing their investment plans or shifting the focus of their business in order to adapt to the situation regarding MPAs.

Two of these had made the decision to buy their own vessel to guarantee supply to the factory, with one detailing a cost of £2.8 million for the vessel, £900,000 of which came from a loan. Despite their purchase, they described some reluctance in buying boats due to the additional responsibilities and time needed to manage them as well as the risk associated with the significant capital outlay.

Conversely, another processor had decided not to invest in a more modern vessel, as the future of the fishing industry felt too uncertain. They expressed concerns that more MPAs would be introduced, resulting in further potential impacts on landings.

Three processors described changing their business focus in the time since management measures were introduced. For example, one processor decided to focus on the brown crab market in China due to the difficulty in sourcing local scallops. This took around three years of work and was said to cost somewhere in the order of a six-figure sum.

Further evidence of this came from another processor who chose to focus on smoked mussels and to stop exporting scallops. They continue to supply scallop to the local market when they have produce, but this can no longer be sourced locally.

In addition, a shellfish processor mentioned having difficulty sourcing larger prawns as they said that they had traditionally acquired these from inside the MPAs. They have, therefore, chosen to focus on the scampi market, which is a lower value product and requires a greater volume of Nephrops.

Changes in staffing

Three of those who had changed their investment or business plans, mentioned doing so in order to avoid laying off staff.

A further four also mentioned having to make changes to their staffing, since management measures were introduced. One of these said that staff were paid in relation to the amount of produce processed and so were paid less in the last few years due to a reduction in landed produce, while another described how their staff were having to leave work early as there was no processing for them to do. Further examples of similar impacts were provided by one processor who said that he had reduced the head count from nine to four members of staff, while another said that staff who leave were not being replaced.

4.2 Aquaculture

MPA designations can increase the number of impact assessments required, and the rigour required for planning consent. The cost of such assessments is incurred by the developer and the process takes time, potentially leading to delays.

Marine aquaculture in Scotland is concentrated on the west coast mainland, and in the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland Islands (see Figure 4.1). Installations are normally positioned in sea lochs, voes and inlets (Scotland's Aquaculture, 2015). While a number of marine finfish species are farmed in Scotland (including rainbow trout, halibut and Arctic charr), the industry is dominated by Atlantic salmon production (95% of finfish production in 2017). Mussels are the main shellfish species produced (95% of shellfish production volume in 2018).

Figure 4.1 Location of finfish and shellfish aquaculture sites in Scotland
Figure description below

Figure description:

This figure presents two maps of Scotland, showing the location of active seawater finfish sites on one, and the location of active seawater shellfish sites on the other. In both, aquaculture sites are overwhelmingly located on the west coast and islands. There are a few shellfish aquaculture sites on the east coast.

In this report the focus is on impacts to salmon producers as they comprise the vast majority of aquaculture in Scotland.

In 2017 aquaculture generated £436 million GVA: accounting for 0.33% of the overall Scottish economy and 8% of the marine economy GVA. The aquaculture industry provided employment for 2,200 people (headcount), contributing 0.09% of the total Scottish employment and 3% of the marine economy employment. According to figures from the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, in 2016 the eight largest salmon producers in Scotland spent on average £74 million each on suppliers and services and £8 million on capital investments.

Aquaculture: Interview findings

Two representatives were interviewed from each of two aquaculture companies operating in Scotland. As they all had very similar views, the main themes from these interviews are summarised in the following section.

Consent for development

Both respondents mentioned the increased time and effort required to gain consent for a new aquaculture development or to make changes to an existing site. With each new site, applications must be submitted for a marine licence from Marine Scotland, a CAR (Controlled Activities Regulations) licence from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and planning permission from the local authority. These applications take account of the impact a development will have on the marine and coastal environment, and as such will consider any designations that the development might interact with. As the number of MPAs and other similar designations (e.g. SPAs, SACs) increases, so does the complexity of the applications for aquaculture developments, and the cost of producing them.

More complex applications require more detailed assessments and surveys and are often more resource intensive to produce. Respondents said they would often ask regulators for advice before submitting applications. They said they would like more information and guidance about how to produce successful applications and felt that there was a lack of clarity or certainty in the advice they currently receive.

All four aquaculture respondents also reported that in the last few years it has taken up to three times as long for regulatory bodies to respond to their planning applications. They believed that this was due to a lack of resource in the relevant regulatory organisations to deal with more complex applications. Their perception was that, where regulators felt uncertain about an application, they would take a precautionary approach, asking for more surveys and more information. Respondents felt that the level of detail requested was not always necessary.

Respondents also mentioned that the data or evidence available on protected features such as their distribution, habitat requirements, feeding and breeding habits, was sometimes minimal. In these instances, fairly extensive surveys were required in order to rule out the presence of a feature or habitat. These can be costly and time consuming.

Costs to aquaculture companies

As mentioned above, extra surveys increase the cost of an application. One respondent quoted a figure of £80,000 for carrying out the Habitats Regulation Appraisal for two sites. This figure covered the cost of hiring expert consultants to carry out surveys and assessments. Both respondents mentioned having to hire more staff to deal with the application process.

In addition to the upfront cost of the surveys, respondents mentioned the cost (resources and time) to the company of developments being delayed. Aquaculture developments have a long lead in time (often two years) as salmon spawns are grown from eggs and specialist equipment needs to be ordered. The equipment is expensive and so is not ordered until planning is approved. Respondents mentioned the practical and financial difficulties of dealing with such a delay. One quoted start-up costs of ~£3.5 million, explaining that after making such an investment, a development could be delayed for two years. They also mentioned that expected profits, from the development would be lost as a result of the delay and that this could equate to ~£7.5 million for the two years.

Costs to communities

Respondents mentioned that the extra staff hired to work on the planning process are often based nearer the central belt of Scotland and so are not necessarily creating jobs in the coastal communities near developments or the MPAs. It was also noted that job creation could also be impacted by a delayed project, with the potential to delay up to six jobs in a coastal community, which could have significant implications for these relatively small coastal areas.

Consultation process

Aquaculture respondents expressed frustration at the consultation process. They explained that often multiple MPAs are consulted on at the same time and that the information can be quite vague. There was a feeling that during consultation there is often a message that existing activities should not be affected by the MPA, but that the reality is often more complex. Respondents felt there was not enough information provided about the potential impacts on future activities during the consultation process.

They all mentioned that once an MPA is proposed, before it is officially designated, it is given policy protection. In addition, there were concerns expressed that MPA management measures and restrictions may change over time in light of new information and highlighted that in general, regulations tended to get stricter, rather than more lenient. This uncertainty around how strict MPA regulations might be in the future, gave rise to some concern about the development of new sites, and it was felt that this uncertainty could affect investment decisions.

Public perception

Aquaculture respondents mentioned a disconnect between the public perception of MPAs and associated regulations, and their own understanding of MPA regulations. The public often think that no activities are allowed inside an MPA, whereas industries, such as aquaculture, are often told that activities are allowed providing they do not negatively impact upon protected features. This disconnect between public perception and the legal reality can negatively affect a company's public image, if they are perceived to be contravening MPA regulations.

4.3 Tourism and recreational activities

In addition to fishing and aquaculture, tourism and recreation industries may also be impacted by MPAs and their management measures. Wildlife tourism often depends on an environment perceived as pristine, and recognition of special features as an attraction. As a result, MPAs may provide a draw for tourists who are interested in seeing wildlife, boosting existing businesses and encouraging the establishment of others.

Scottish tourism as a whole was estimated to be worth £4.1 billion in GVA in 2017. In 2017 marine tourism generated £594 million GVA, accounting for 0.45% of the overall Scottish economy and 11% of the marine economy GVA. Marine tourism is estimated to account for around 14% of all Scottish tourism. Furthermore, the industry provided employment for 28,300 people (headcount), contributing 1.14% of the total Scottish employment. It is the biggest marine economy employer, accounting for 38% of the marine economy employment in Scotland. These figures are headcounts so while marine tourism and recreation dominate marine economy employment figures, the full-time equivalent employment level is significantly smaller. This is due to the often-seasonal nature of tourism and recreation together with the part time nature of the employment.

Figure 4.2 shows employment and GVA for each Scottish Marine Region in 2017. Tourism is particularly important for the Clyde and West Highland Regions with both areas containing a number of MPAs.

Marine tourism covers such a wide range of businesses from attractions, to accommodation and shops, that it is not possible to give an indication of operating costs and incomes for a typical business.

Figure 4.2 Marine tourism employment and GVA by Scottish Marine Region, 2017
Figure description below

Figure description:

This figure shows two maps of Scotland showing the value of marine tourism for different marine regions. In the map on the left, the coastline is shaded in different colours depending on the contribution that tourism makes to total employment in that marine region. In the map on the right the coastline is shaded in different colours depending on the contribution that tourism makes to GVA in that marine region. On the west coast, tourism is particularly important for the Clyde and West Highlands.

Tourism: Interview findings

The effects of MPAs on tourism in surrounding areas was mentioned by a fairly large number of respondents (36 out of 101), from across various sectors. As a different number of respondents were interviewed in each sector, and this topic was discussed by such a broad range of respondent groups, the total respondents from each group are presented in Table 4.2 along with the number discussing tourism. It is important to note that a number of respondents who were classed as a different stakeholder group such as 'fishing industry' or 'eNGO' also had tourism interests e.g. B&B or boat tours. For the interview analysis, they were classed according to their primary occupation.

Table 4.2 Number of respondents discussing tourism in each stakeholder group compared to total
Stakeholder group Total number interviewed Number of respondents discussing tourism
Fishing industry 40 8
eNGO/community group 13 9
Tourism 6 6
Local Authority 7 6
Harbour management 5 4
Compliance 7 3

Importance of MPAs as a tourist attraction

Twenty-one respondents described MPAs as a tourist or recreation attraction and 11 mentioned businesses (sometimes their own, sometimes those of others) that either started because of MPAs, had improved because of them, or were using MPAs as part of their USP. Businesses linked to MPAs included kayak and snorkel tours, boat tours, recreational fishing, seafood vendors and Bed & Breakfast establishments. The Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) have set up a visitor's centre to raise awareness of the MPA, to support marine conservation and to provide a base for their activities, which attracted 11,000 visitors in 2018. A few respondents gave financial information about these tourism businesses with estimates of turnover ranging from £60,000-£600,000.

A strong theme that emerged from the interviews was the importance of the natural environment for tourism in Scotland. Respondents felt that wildlife and the pristine nature of the habitats were significant attractions for both local and international tourists, and that this was particularly the case in Scotland's coastal areas.

A few respondents highlighted that some of the MPAs, particularly South Arran, are close to populated urban areas. There was a feeling that these MPAs provide an incredible resource with clear waters and rare species present, and so easily accessible to the more urban centres of the Central Belt (e.g. Glasgow and Edinburgh). This point is expanded on further in Section 5.1, with relation to community engagement and education opportunities.

These points were often supported by the recognition that tourism is an important industry for remote rural areas. There was a feeling among respondents that Scotland's tourism economy was growing and may continue to do so, with more people staying in the UK for holidays due to the weakness of the pound[14] and a growing desire amongst some to lower their carbon footprint by reducing air travel. A few respondents felt that environmental sustainability was of increasing importance when people make holiday decisions, and that the MPAs and associated seafood and recreational activities could capitalise on this.

Despite the recognition of potential benefits as a result of MPAs, it was common for some respondents to lament that not enough was made of the MPAs and that they needed to be promoted more. A few commented that terrestrial national parks are signposted and have interpretation boards, and felt that MPAs should be treated in the same way, with signs to draw people's attention to the sea and the wildlife that can be seen there.

Seven respondents with links to tourism were not aware of the MPAs or did not make the connection between MPAs and tourism opportunities. On the other hand, nine respondents with links to tourism made the connection and highlighted MPAs as part of their activities or used the MPAs in their promotional material.

Five respondents highlighted that although tourism is important for rural economies in Scotland, it is a seasonal industry and cannot sustain these communities alone. Often people need another job to ensure they have an income in the winter, or alternatively they move away in those months.

Recreational fishing

Fourteen respondents mentioned recreational fishing or sea angling with most of these lamenting the decline of this industry. Many described businesses related to recreational fishing that had been lucrative and important to communities in the past. Angling competitions were described as having been big attractions, drawing great numbers of international visitors to rural coastal communities in previous years. Respondents attributed the decline of this industry to reductions in fish stocks. There was hope that MPAs would improve fish stocks and allow this industry to return. Some reported that this regeneration of recreational fishing was already happening, with new businesses starting up and species such as haddock starting to appear at angling events.


Positive and negative impacts have been reported by industries that are not directly affected by MPA management measures. In the case of seafood processors this was often related to impacts experienced by the fishing industry. Respondents from seafood processing described struggling to get produce, reductions in business profits, and needing to change their business to adapt. Large processors are likely to be able to source produce from a wider range of vessels and fishing grounds and so may not be affected. For smaller processors who depend on a local fleet, changes in access to fishing grounds may be more important.

Respondents from aquaculture described the increased complexity involved with preparing planning applications for new developments or extensions and the business costs associated with this. They felt that there was not enough information about protected features and that local authorities lacked the resources to process them in good time. Delayed applications were said to be costly for aquaculture companies. Respondents also highlighted that delaying a project would also delay the jobs associated with a new site, a portion of which are in coastal communities.

In relation to tourism, respondents felt that the MPAs have had a positive impact, as they provide an additional tourist attraction for areas nearby. Some businesses reported using the MPAs as part of their USP or their promotional material. Aside from such direct links between tourism and MPAs, respondents also highlighted the importance of the natural environment for marine tourism in general. They felt that environmental protection afforded by the MPAs would enhance marine tourism and recreation opportunities in the future, regardless of whether those businesses used the MPA directly. An example of this is recreational fishing, which respondents hoped would expand as habitats and stocks recovered. A number of respondents felt that more effort could have been made to promote and celebrate the MPAs and their benefits for the environment and coastal communities, and acknowledged that there was still a lack of awareness about MPAs in some areas.



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