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 6. Wider context

The MPA designations and associated management measures form part of a range of factors that affect the marine environment and the people who depend on it. In themselves, MPAs may have minimal direct impact, but when examined in combination with other existing challenges, their impacts might be greater than initially thought. It is important to put the impacts resulting from the introduction of MPAs into this context to better understand them. This section summarises the cumulative impacts of issues affecting areas near MPAs to illustrate the complexity in which marine industries and their communities operate. It also sets out the wider challenges that marine industries face, some of which relate to global forces.

Summary of findings

Although the interviews focused on the issue of MPAs and the impacts they may have had on marine stakeholders, it was common for respondents to discuss other, related issues that interact with the MPAs. These issues serve to either explain, contextualise, or highlight some of the more direct impacts of MPA management measures.

A range of industries use the marine environment, all impacting on each other and placing restrictions on how the sea can be used. MPAs form a part of this context and, during interviews, were frequently discussed in relation to the cumulative impacts of other marine developments. For example:

  • Aquaculture was often mentioned as having a wider impact on the marine environment by respondents from a range of groups. Fish farms use feed and chemicals to maintain their fish and it is thought that these impact on wild shellfish and adjacent habitats.
  • Offshore renewable developments were mentioned less frequently and mostly in specific areas (e.g. Orkney). These developments take up space in the sea and can hinder safe passage through certain areas. They are currently not perceived to be a major concern in west coast waters.
  • Respondents highlighted that not all marine areas are prime fishing grounds, but that where developments interact with these areas, it can have a disproportionate impact.

Many respondents from fishing and associated industries reported that skippers were struggling to find crew and that this was one of the biggest factors affecting their ability to fish. A few respondents described this as their most significant concern. The main causes of this were thought to be:

  • Young people not choosing to join the industry as it is considered too risky and unstable. Young people were thought to be choosing to work in aquaculture instead, as this is perceived as offering a more stable income and benefits, such as pension, holidays and sick pay.
  • Difficulties in accessing non-EU crew due to changes in legislation relating to migrant workers impacting overall recruitment into the sector.

Changes in prices for fish and shellfish can have a substantial impact on fishing and processing businesses and are known to fluctuate quite a lot, for a range of reasons. This was mentioned fairly frequently by respondents from the fishing industry as it can have such a big impact on vessel profits. Two main issues were highlighted:

  • Concerns over access to markets for selling produce were frequently mentioned, as respondents were concerned about the potential impacts of Brexit. Fishers are able to get a higher price for their produce if they can sell it live to European markets. There were concerns that disruption to transport of goods to Europe might close this market avenue.
  • On the other hand, Brexit uncertainty meant the British Pound was weak, creating a favourable exchange rate for exporting fish. Some said this was the main reason their businesses had been doing well, and expressed concern if the situation changed.

The licence or quota system was thought to hinder fishers' abilities to diversify and respond to changing markets, stocks and environmental conditions.

  • Respondents described feeling constrained, having to continue fishing for the species they had quota for, even if stocks were depleted and profits reduced.
  • The high price of licences or acquisition of quota were also thought to discourage young people from entering the fishing industry.

Rural and remote communities face a range of challenges including dwindling populations, lack of employment opportunities and difficulties accessing resources, making them vulnerable to external shocks. Even small changes to some industries can have significant consequences in rural communities. Respondents often described how the success of offshore and onshore businesses could be highly dependent on each other.

Respondents discussed how wider environmental changes can, and indeed are, having an impact on marine industries. Specifically, climate change was discussed as having the potential to increase the vulnerability of marine ecosystems, and so increase their need for protection.

6.1 Cumulative impacts

Several industries make use of the resources that Scottish seas provide e.g. offshore renewable energy and aquaculture. Where these developments occur, there will be restrictions on who can use that part of the sea and in what way depending on the nature of the development, and the area it occupies. MPA designations may occur in areas where there are other existing developments or industries, bringing with them another set of restrictions on marine activities. These restrictions can cover a fairly small area, but when combined with other nearby developments and the restrictions associated with them, they can have substantial impacts. This combination of impacts is termed 'cumulative impacts'.

Twenty-nine (out of 101) respondents raised the issue of cumulative impacts during interviews. Discussions focused on the impacts of aquaculture and renewable energy developments, although other marine users were also mentioned. Some respondents mentioned more than one type of cumulative impact.


Twenty-three respondents discussed aquaculture developments and the individual and cumulative impacts they may have on the marine environment and other marine activities. This topic was discussed by approximately a quarter of fishers interviewed (11 out of 40), and half (6 out of 13) of the eNGO and community group members interviewed.

Most of these discussions were concerned with the environmental impact of aquaculture and whether this might affect fish stocks. Respondents discussed the effects of lice chemicals on crabs, and wider impacts on the sea-bed. This issue was raised mostly by fishers and eNGOs/community groups. As discussed in previous sections, there are already concerns regarding fish stocks, landings and environmental health, and the potential that aquaculture developments may add to this caused some disquiet.

Some fishers also mentioned that aquaculture may be exacerbating the difficulty in finding crew, as local men were choosing to work on fish farms instead, for the reasons outlined in Section 6.2. On the other hand, others said that they were grateful for the fish farms as they provided local employment, and felt that without the farms, some coastal communities might struggle.


Potential cumulative impacts relating to offshore renewable developments were mentioned by 9 respondents, mostly from fishing or related industries, but also a couple from local authorities. Offshore renewable energy sites were mentioned most often in relation to reduced access to fishing grounds, if developments take place on fishing grounds, or impede safe passage to fishing grounds. For the most part, these developments were not thought of as an issue at present, but there were concerns about the area devoted to this type of development expanding in future. This could have an impact alongside MPA designations which also reduces the area available for fishing.

Ten respondents spoke of other impacts which they felt added to the difficulties of operating in the marine environment. Marine activities, which were mentioned in this context, include military areas, ferry crossings, cruise liners and shipping lanes. A few respondents discussed how each development or requirement reduces their access to fishing grounds. Although each development may take up only a small area of the sea, when combined a greater total area is restricted. They also felt that planners positioning renewable energy installations failed to acknowledge that not all of the sea is prime fishing ground and that the weather, tides and currents have a big influence on which areas can be accessed. They said that when all these things are combined it can reduce options for fishing considerably.

6.2 Shortage of Crew

Skippers have been struggling to find crew to work on their boats for some time. This issue was raised by 28 respondents, all from fishing or related industries. A couple of respondents mentioned losing days at sea because of difficulty finding crew, with one citing 3 months lost in 2 years. Overall, crew recruitment was often cited as the biggest issue facing the fishing industry on the west coast.

The difficulty finding crew was thought to be for several reasons. Chief among these were:

  • Young, local people are not choosing to join the industry -Young people were said to be working in aquaculture as this offered a steady income, regular working hours, and social benefits such as sick pay and holidays. According to some, although fishing often pays more than aquaculture, the wages may be irregular and are not sufficiently high to compensate for the uncertainty and difficult working conditions.
  • Difficulty getting non-EU crew - The laws concerning employment of non-EU workers make it difficult for skippers to get visas for non-EU crew. Historically, crew from the Philippines or Ghana were able to come and work for a short period and then return to their home country. This is no longer possible due to a change in laws relating to foreign workers. Currently many boats rely on EU migrants, but there is some concern about what Brexit will mean for this source of crew.

6.3 Markets

Changes in prices for fish and shellfish can have a significant impact on fishing and processing businesses, something that was mentioned regularly during interviews. Twenty-two respondents discussed this topic, mostly from fishing and related industries.

Access to markets

It was common for respondents to mention Brexit and to express concern about their ability to sell their produce to Europe. For many, Europe is their main market and they do not know what they will do if they lose access to it, or if there are delays in moving live or fresh produce as a result of customs checks being introduced that would render it worthless.

A lot of respondents discussed the market for live brown crab in China. This market was said to be large and lucrative and potentially driving the rise in creel gear. A few respondents mentioned exploring that market in preparation for the impacts of Brexit.


It was also common for respondents to mention how fluctuating prices had a big impact on their income and economic stability. Many mentioned that the weak pound[15] had been good for them in recent years, as they were getting a better price for their produce. Many said that although their catch per unit effort was declining, the price had made up for that. It was also common for respondents to express concern about what would happen if the markets changed, and to recognise that markets can change quite quickly.

6.4 Licence or quota

The licence and quota systems affect which species can be fished and how much can be landed. Sixteen respondents raised this issue during the interviews, 13 of whom were from the fishing industry.

Depending on the target species, fishers either need to buy a license to fish, or quota that entitles them to a certain portion of the harvestable stock. Many respondents discussed how obtaining licence or quota was very difficult and expensive to buy, and that this had a number of consequences for those working in the industry.

Due to the price and availability, fishers described being limited to a small amount of quota for one species, or a license for one species. This meant that they were not able to diversify in response to changes in markets, stock, environmental conditions or new designations such as MPAs. Respondents described being forced to continue fishing for a particular species, despite being aware that stocks were low, because they did not have the option of moving on to something else. It was commented that this made the fishing industry and fishing communities less resilient to any political and environmental shocks that may be on the horizon.

Some also mentioned that the difficulty of obtaining licence or quota added to the challenge for young people seeking to enter the fishing industry, unless they were part of a family business. It was felt that this might further exacerbate the issues with finding crew.

6.5 Rural communities

Many of the communities near MPAs are small, rural and remote, and employment opportunities can be limited. Changes to a locally important industry can be keenly felt and can have significant consequences for the wider local economy and community.

Nineteen respondents, from a range of groups, mentioned the difficulties of living in rural and remote communities. Many described difficulties accessing resources and services, with the costs associated with transporting goods in or out of the area sometimes prohibitively high. This means that local businesses tend to rely on each other. For example, the fishers, the harbour and the general population might rely on the local iron monger, while that business, in turn, is dependent on the local customer base. If one of those businesses or industries leaves or declines, there is a domino effect and the others suffer. Respondents mentioned struggling when the local chandlery, co-op or fuel tanker business closed. In some cases, it was mentioned that this can lead to an over-reliance on one business which provides a lot of local employment, and potentially infrastructure, thus increasing the overall vulnerability of the community.

Respondents also highlighted that remote and rural communities can suffer from depopulation and a lack of jobs. This can mean that each business is vitally important for providing employment, but also that each family or resident is important for using services and keeping them going. They highlighted that the situation can be particularly difficult for island communities.

For the reasons described above, rural, island and remote communities can be highly vulnerable and for coastal communities, where fishing can be an important industry, factors that affect fishing (e.g. MPAs) may have disproportionate impacts.

6.6 Environmental concerns

Wider environmental changes such as weather events and stock fluctuations can have an impact on marine industries. At the same time, climate change may increase the vulnerability of marine ecosystems, and so increase their need for protection.

Thirteen respondents, from a range of groups including the fishing industry, eNGOs or community groups, and processing, mentioned wider environmental concerns. All of these respondents mentioned concern for the marine environment, and highlighted a range of environmental issues including, climate change, micro plastics in the sea, ocean acidification, disruption of feeding patterns and disruption of the ecosystem as a whole. Over-fishing was also mentioned frequently. Many respondents commented that there were certain species that they had not seen for some time and expressed concern about what this might mean for the future of the wider ecosystem.

Several respondents said that the weather was the biggest risk factor for their business. Along with this, there was recognition from some respondents that weather patterns had become more erratic and storms more severe. Some linked this to climate change.


This section explored the links between MPA management measures and other local and global factors affecting marine stakeholders. The interviews focused on MPAs and their impacts, but it was very common for respondents to discuss other, related issues in order to better explain, highlight or contextualise their experiences.

It became clear that MPA management measures cannot be considered in isolation, as this is not how respondents experience their impacts. A common theme was that of cumulative impacts associated with other marine users. Respondents from the fishing industry, in particular, highlighted that MPA management measures were introduced into inshore waters where certain areas are already inaccessible due to other marine developments such as those for aquaculture and renewable energy, as well as shipping lanes, ferry routes, cruise liners and military zones.

Many respondents commented on the environmental impacts of aquaculture sites. For those from the fishing industry, there were concerns that the chemicals and feed used in aquaculture may negatively affect shellfish, exacerbating the decline in these stocks and adding to the difficulties of landing enough to make a profit. Respondents from eNGOs and community groups also had concerns about pollution form aquaculture sites. They worried that these pollutants would add to existing pressures on the marine environment such as overfishing, climate change and marine plastics.

Respondents from fishing and related industries also highlighted that MPA management measures were not the only thing affecting their ability to maintain their businesses. Many respondents described the shortage of crew as the most important issue affecting them. This was thought to be due to a change in the law relating to non-EU migrant workers, as well as the lack of young people joining the industry. Respondents felt that young people did not choose to enter fishing as it was considered an unstable and difficult career. Young people in coastal areas, who might have been interesting in fishing, were said to be more likely to choose a career in aquaculture.

The price of fish and access to markets were also considered to be important factors for respondents from the fishing industry, as were environmental changes and the weather. These factors can be volatile and affected by global forces.

Interviews were carried out while Brexit negotiations were underway and this was of great concern to respondents from fishing and related industries, as it was seen to be impacting produce prices, and has the potential to affect markets. Recent years have also seen particularly erratic and extreme weather events.

Some factors, such as the quota system, reduced the ability of fishers to adapt to external shocks and changes, reducing their resilience. Respondents from the fishing industry described how the current quota and licence system limited their ability to target different fisheries in response to changes in markets, stocks, marine developments or weather events, amongst other things. As a result, the impact of developments such as MPA management measures can be accentuated, as fishers are less able to adapt to them.

In many cases the rural and remote nature of coastal industries and communities can make them vulnerable, compounding negative impacts from other factors. Rural and remote communities can suffer from dwindling populations, lack of employment opportunities and difficulties accessing resources. Even small changes to key industries can have relatively important consequences. Respondents often described how the success of offshore and onshore business could be highly dependent on each other.



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