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 7. Case Studies

Four MPAs were chosen as case studies for this research. This approach enabled a more detailed exploration of specific issues and areas.

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

The case studies were as follows:

South Arran MPA - chosen because it covers a large area where a lot of fishing takes place and there is potential for impacts on the fishing industry. There is also a very active community group associated with the MPA. The site is 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 allowing cumulative impacts to be explored.

Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura MPA - chosen because it covers a large area where a lot of fishing takes place and there is potential for impacts on the fishing industry. Marine tourism is well established in the area and there is potential for tourism activities associated with the MPA.

Orkney (Sanday SAC and Wyre and Rousay Sound MPA) - chosen because it is not controversial and impacts on fishing were not expected. However, a range of marine industries use the inshore waters around Orkney and there is potential for cumulative impacts

During August and September 2019, fieldwork was undertaken in the areas described above. Semi-structured interviews and short structured interviews were carried out with stakeholders and local businesses in communities near the case study MPAs. This, along with the key informant interviews, formed the basis of the qualitative evidence presented in previous sections of this report. The main findings of each case study are presented in the following pages, in order to place the impacts within their geographical context.

Case study: South Arran

Areas visited during fieldwork: Troon, Tarbert, Carradale, Campbeltown, Arran

Figure description below

Figure description:

Map showing the South Arran MPA, and the location of the towns nearby that were visited during fieldwork. These are Tarbert, Carradale, Campbeltown, Arran, Troon and Ayr.

Stakeholder group No. of respondents
In depth interview Short interview
Fishing industry 12 -
Seafood processing 4 -
eNGO/ Community group 4 -
Tourism - 3
Food - -
Retail - 1
Other (council, harbour) 6 -
Total 26 4

MPA context

Site description: The South Arran MPA is located around the southern half of the Isle of Arran in the Clyde. The outer boundary line is 3 nm from the coast and incorporates Holy Isle, Pladda Island and an existing No Take Zone in Lamlash Bay.

Features to be protected: Burrowed mud, kelp and seaweed communities, maerl beds, maerl or coarse shell gravel with burrowing sea cucumbers, seagrass beds, shallow tide-swept coarse sands with burrowing bivalves, ocean quahog aggregations.

Management measures - Whole Site: Beam trawl, dredge, demersal seine net, and demersal trawl by vessels greater than 120 gross tonnage.

Zonal management: Demersal trawl by vessels less than or equal to 120 gross tonnage. Creel fishing, set nets, and long lines.

Impacts of MPAs on the area

The most significant direct impact that the introduction of MPAs has reportedly had on fishing activity in the Arran area is the loss of access to important fishing grounds, requiring fishers to find new grounds as a result. This was mentioned by 17 respondents. In particular, the island of Arran was said to be important for providing shelter to fishing vessels during winter months, enabling vessels to fish no matter what direction the wind was blowing. Without these sheltered grounds, many described losing days at sea with one respondent estimating a loss of 10 days per year.

Nine respondents described reductions in landings. This was often attributed to the loss of sheltered fishing grounds. Ten respondents also mentioned having to fish other areas more heavily, and expressed concern about the impact the extra fishing pressure might have on stocks.

In the South Arran area respondents also highlighted the many ongoing challenges facing fishing communities. These included:

The difficulties of living and working in a remote area:

  • High transport costs can make it difficult and expensive to get supplies, small changes in employment can have a big impact, and depopulation is a concern.
  • Respondents also described how many local businesses depended on each other and how declines in one could quickly have knock on effects for others.

The longer-term decline of fishing and the difficulties faced by port towns, as a result:

  • Many cited Tarbert as an example of the interdependence between the onshore and offshore fishing related businesses, although similar trends were described in Campbeltown and Carradale.
  • Businesses such as the chandlery, transport company and fishing office had sold up as the overheads were too high and profits too low. As a result, fishers have to organise their own transport, arrange delivery of hardware supplies and do their own accounts. This is more costly and time consuming.
  • For some, these higher costs may make their business less viable, and they may choose to leave the industry. One respondent described it as being "punished for our postcode".
  • Much of this decline was said to have started before MPAs were introduced, but the MPAs were seen as an additional burden and a contributing factor.

The difficulty finding crew for fishing boats:

  • As well as the reasons described in Section 6.2 of this report, the remote location of these towns was seen as an extra factor.
  • It was felt that crew from elsewhere in Scotland were not willing to travel so far for the work. One respondent said that they lost 3 weeks of fishing in 2018, as they could not find crew.

Eight respondents described social or personal impacts from management measures. Three of these described extra time needed to carry out other business related activities, such as accounts and ordering supplies, in addition to highlighting the impact of the increasing uncertainty of the profession on family life. Two young fishers left the industry to work in aquaculture for this reason, while another commented that he may leave fishing when he started a family. On the other hand, another respondent described how, after selling his fishing business to work in aquaculture, he was now away from his family for 3 weeks at a time. He felt it was hard on his wife and children and described finding it difficult to adjust.

Others discussed the effort associated with changing their career or fishing style. They said they had spent their careers acquiring the skills and knowledge required to fish in their area, with their gear type, and that it was not easy to become competitive at a new style of fishing.

Stakeholders in the Arran area were also able to take advantage of the perceived opportunities associated with the MPA designation.

  • Four respondents described the MPA as a tourist attraction, mentioning kayak tours businesses and B&Bs who used the MPA as part of their USP.
  • The Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) has set up a visitor's centre to raise awareness about the MPA, to support marine conservation and to provide a base for their activities. The centre attracted 11,000 visitors in 2018.

As well as using the MPA as a tourist attraction, local groups have used it to encourage and enhance engagement with the marine environment.

  • Community groups in the area regularly organise a range of activities and events in collaboration with schools, universities and other relevant organisations, aimed at raising awareness of the MPA and wider marine issues, and educating both locals and visitors about the marine environment.
  • They have developed collaborations with research institutes to carry out research and monitoring of the marine life in the area.
  • A few respondents highlighted how the South Arran MPA is close to the central belt offering people from nearby urban areas a chance to see some exceptional marine wildlife. The research and activities that these groups organise also give people a chance to gain skills and experience that might normally be too expensive or far away to access.

Seven respondents reported environmental improvements in the area, saying they were seeing a greater abundance of some species and the return of others.

Thirteen respondents discussed the tensions that have arisen in the area since MPA management measures were introduced. Some groups are strongly in support of MPAs, while other are strongly against them. It is also clear that some have benefited from the designations, while others have not.

Local business perspectives

Four businesses took part in the short structured interviews. Three were linked to tourism, one supplied hardware to businesses and individuals. Two respondents considered their business to be linked to the marine environment.

From this group, little mention was made about how MPAs might have impacted on their businesses suggesting that MPAs are not the most pressing issue for them. Three respondents had not noticed any changes to their business in recent years and cited the weather as well as the local community as being the most important factors for the success of their business.

Only one respondent mentioned that fishing was declining and the community was not thriving. They did not attribute this to the MPA, but to overfishing. They also highlighted that they felt it was important for a community not to be dependent on tourism, as this can lead to a seasonal and unstable income.


Fishers in the South Arran area reported losing access to sheltered fishing grounds, with consequences for their landings. This has had knock on effects for onshore businesses and communities. These were already suffering due to the trend of decline in fishing and the difficulties inherent with operating in a rural and remote community.

Local community groups have galvanised around the MPA, organising events and activities to raise awareness and educate people about the marine environment, and conducting research to assist with monitoring changes to the MPA. The MPA and associated opportunities are thought to provide a valuable resource for people in the wider area.

Case study: Wester Ross

Areas visited during fieldwork: Ullapool, Stornoway, Kinlochbervie, Achiltibuie

Figure description below

Figure description:

Map showing the Wester Ross MPA and the location of the towns nearby that were visited during fieldwork. These are Stornoway, Kinlochbervie, Achiltibuie and Ullapool.

Stakeholder group No. of respondents
In depth interview Short interview
Fishing industry 14 -
Seafood processing 2 -
eNGO/ Community group 2 -
Tourism 1 -
Food - 3
Retail - -
Other (council, harbour) 4 -
Total 23 3

MPA context

Site description: The Wester Ross MPA stretches from the southern part of the Coigach peninsula to Loch Ewe, encompassing the Summer Isles and extending a little into the Minch.

Features: Burrowed mud, flame shell beds, kelp and seaweed communities, maerl beds, northern feather star aggregations, circalittoral muddy sand communities, maerl or coarse shell gravel with burrowing sea cucumbers as well as geodiversity features.

Management measures - Whole Site: Beam trawl, dredge, demersal seine net, and demersal trawl by vessels greater than 500 kW engine power.

Zonal management: Demersal trawl by vessels less than or equal to 500 kW engine power.

Impacts of MPAs on the area

A common theme in the Wester Ross MPA was the efforts that fishers had to make to adapt to MPA management measures.

  • Twelve respondents discussed changing their fishing patterns; in some cases choosing to fish more on the east coast. This could have consequences for onshore businesses in the local area
  • Nine respondents described how, as people were not able to fish inside the MPA, unrestricted fishing grounds had become more crowded, increasing pressure on these areas. One commented that everyone was looking for the same protection from the prevailing southerly wind, and so the same places were being targeted and stocks were declining

This was having knock on effects for local processors as their traditional grounds were being fished by vessels which landed their catches elsewhere. Processors highlighted that being based in remote areas can make it difficult to get produce as there is not such a wide range of resources available to them.

Changes in fish stocks were also mentioned by a fairly large number of respondents (14 in total), but with differing perspectives.

  • Seven respondents discussed reported improvements to stocks and habitats within the MPA boundary. Scallop divers and anglers reported improvements in scallop stocks, as well as the return of fish species that has not been seen for a while, such as haddock, herring and skate. It was noted by respondents that scallop populations are often quick to recover and so would likely be the first fishery to show signs of recovery.
  • As well as stock benefits within the MPA, eight respondents spoke of declines in stocks outside of the MPA. Several reasons were given for this. The decline in crab stocks was attributed to overfishing by industrial vivier crab boats, as well as a greater demand for crab in China. The decline in the Nephrop creel fishery was attributed to the high price of Nephrops and the lack of regulation in this sector.

A particularly notable theme within the Wester Ross MPA was the efforts made by local community groups in raising awareness, conducting research, and engaging across different stakeholder groups.

  • Eight respondents reported an increased awareness of the marine environment in the local community, as well as research that had been carried out to monitor the MPA. Much of this work has been carried out by local eNGOs and community groups through a combination of citizen science and funded projects. The Ullapool Sea Savers were mentioned often in relation to the campaigns and projects they had been involved with.
  • There were a few instances where environmental groups and fishers had worked together. For example, a trawl vessel had invited school children from the local conservation group to see his boat and how that form of fishing works. Additionally, a scheme was developed to train creel fishers in how to disentangle marine mammals from ropes.

Local business perspectives

Three businesses took part in the questionnaire, all of these were in the food sector and two considered themselves to be dependent on the marine environment. All respondents said they supported the introduction of MPAs.

One commented that since the Wester Ross MPA was established, community awareness of the marine environment and environmental issues had increased. They attributed this to local eNGOs and community groups. Another respondent noted the decline in the local fleet and the increase in tourism in the area.


Fishers near the Wester Ross MPA have taken steps to adapt to the MPA management measures. This mostly involved changing their fishing patterns to target different areas. Unrestricted fishing grounds are becoming fairly crowded, and there were concerns about the impact the increased fishing pressure might have on these grounds.

Shellfish stocks in areas outside the MPA were already thought to be depleted as recent high prices for Nephrops and crabs had resulted in increased pressure on these species. On the other hand, respondents reported improvements to stocks and habitats within the MPA boundary.

Local community groups were praised for the work they had done raising awareness about the local marine environment.

Case Study: Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura

(includes Firth of Lorn SAC, Loch Sunart SAC and Loch Sunart NCMPA)

Areas visited during fieldwork: Oban, Tobermory

Figure description below

Figure description:

Map showing the Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura MPA, and the towns nearby that were visited during fieldwork. These are Oban and Tobermory.

Stakeholder group No. of respondents
In depth interview Short interview
Fishing industry 9 -
Seafood processing 2 -
eNGO/ Community group 4 -
Tourism 2 4
Food (including seafood) - 2
Retail - 1
Other (council, harbour) 3 -
Total 20 7

MPA context

Site description: The Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura MPA extends northwards from the Sound of Jura, covering the Firth of Lorn and the south-western part of Loch Linnhe. The site extends through the Sound of Mull and into Loch Sunart.

Features: Common skate as well as geodiversity features.

Management measures - Whole site: Beam trawl, suction dredge, demersal seine net, set nets, and long lines.

Zonal management: demersal trawl without use of tickler chains, and mechanical dredge.

Impacts of MPAs on the area

Common themes in Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura area were displacement of fishing activity and the need to diversify. Nine respondents described being displaced from their traditional fishing grounds, while ten described taking steps to diversify or adapt their businesses. Six of these were personal accounts, four were reported.

  • Many respondents from the fishing industry described having to travel further to find grounds in which to fish. One respondent said he now had to steam for 3.5 hours before he arrived at open fishing grounds.
  • This might mean fishing in less sheltered waters or staying overnight on the vessel to avoid wasting time travelling each day.
  • As a result, some respondents chose to buy a bigger vessel which could withstand worse sea conditions or sell up as a small boat was not viable.
  • A few respondents were concerned that this would lead to a shift in the predominant style of fishing, with larger vessels becoming more common. Larger vessels tend to be more nomadic and need to catch more to make a profit. There were concerns that this could have consequences for stocks.
  • Respondents also raised concerns about the increased pressure on areas outside MPAs. They said that grounds just beyond the MPA boundary were particularly heavily fished.
  • Additionally, some respondents described fishing and landing their catch much further afield on the east coast and in English waters. This change in fishing behaviour could have consequences for processors that depend on local catch.

Another common theme was that of wildlife tourism and its importance for the local area. Ten respondents raised this topic.

  • Respondents described how wildlife tourism had grown a lot in recent years, with some highlighting the contribution these businesses make to local harbours.
  • It was estimated that there were 10 dive or wildlife boats operating in the area and that these would each take approximately 24 people at peak season. Visiting tourists stay in Bed & Breakfasts and eat in restaurants, further contributing to the local economy.
  • While the growth of this industry was not attributed to the MPA, respondents did highlight that a healthy marine environment, with thriving populations of marine flora and fauna is vital for this type of tourism to succeed.

Local Business perspectives

Seven businesses took part in the short structured interviews. Four of these were related to tourism, two were in the food industry and one was in retail. Six of them felt that their business was dependent on the marine environment.

The businesses in the food industry commented that they had found it difficult to source local seafood in recent years, and had noticed fewer boats in the harbour. The shortage of stock meant higher prices and, in some instances, hiring less staff. This was attributed in part to the MPA (i.e. management measures placed more pressure on a smaller area), but also to crew shortages and a decline that started long ago.

One respondent whose business was 50% tourism, and 50% service boat, mentioned that the revenue from the service boat was higher and more constant. They commented that tourism can be fickle and the running costs are fairly constant, irrespective of the number of customers.


Displacement was an important impact for fishers near the Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura MPA, with some fishers describing having to travel over three hours before reaching grounds in which they could fish. Some commented that they had adapted by changing their fishing patterns so that they would stay out on the boat and fish for three days before going home. Others upgraded to bigger vessels which could travel further, shifting to a more nomadic style of fishing.

Wildlife tourism was thought to be very important for the local area and is an industry that is growing. Respondents highlighted that this type of tourism depends on a healthy and diverse marine environment.

Case Study: Orkney

(Wyre and Rousay Sounds NCMPA and Sanday SAC)

Areas visited during fieldwork: Kirkwall, Stromness

Figure description below

Figure description:

Map showing the Wyre and Rousay Sounds MPA and the Sanday SAC, and the towns nearby that were visited during fieldwork. These are Kirkwall and Stromness.

Stakeholder group No. of respondents
In depth interview Short interview
Fishing industry 5 -
Seafood processing - -
eNGO/ Community group - -
Tourism 3 2
Food - 1
Retail - 2
Other (council, harbour) 5 -
Total 13 5

MPA context

Site description: The Wyre and Rousay MPA covers the sounds between the islands of Rousay, Wyre and Egilsay in Orkney, north Scotland. The area covers channels swept by the tides of the Atlantic and the North Sea supporting large beds of maerl and kelp and seaweed communities. Sanday SAC surrounds most of northeast Sanday Island, from Backaskaill Bay round to the Holms of Ire.

Features: Wyre and Rousay Sounds NCMPA: Kelp and seaweed communities on sublittoral sediment, maerl beds, as well as geodiversity features. Sanday SAC: harbour seals, reefs, subtidal sandbanks, intertidal mudflats and sandflats

Management measures - Whole site: Demersal trawl, demersal seine net, beam trawl, and dredge.

Other context: Most activity in the area is from under 15 m creel and dive vessels. Three finfish farms are located within the boundary of the MPA. The Fall of Warness (European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), up to 4 MW capacity) tidal energy generation test site is within 5 km of the MPA boundary while the Westray South (SSE Renewables Developments (UK) Limited, 200 MW capacity) tidal energy generation development is in development.

Impacts of MPAs on the area

Cumulative impacts were particularly important issues for respondents near the Orkney MPAs, and were mentioned by 4 respondents.

  • There are a number of industries using the marine environment in the area including fishing, aquaculture, renewable energy generation and tourism. This was not considered to be an issue at present, but there were concerns for the future if more developments were planned
  • Aquaculture was mentioned often as it was believed that the chemicals for treating lice were having a detrimental impact on shellfish stocks. It was also said that aquaculture offered a more obvious career path for young people as the industry was more prominent in the area.
  • One respondent described how cumulative impacts may not necessarily involve the loss of fishing grounds, but that the location of developments could impede safe passage, making areas difficult to access.

Six respondents mentioned tourism, and, in particular, wildlife tourism, describing how the local landscapes and seascapes are an important part of tourism in Orkney.

  • MPAs were not described as a part of that tourism, at present, and a few respondents were not aware of them.
  • Two respondents described plans to develop sustainable tourism and felt that the MPAs could be a big part of this. They described a project that was in development with the North Isles Landscape Partnership to develop a virtual dive experience in the MPA. The partnership was set up to raise awareness of the landscape and environmental assets in the Northern Isles.

Local Business Perspectives

Five businesses completed the short structured interviews. Two of these were in the tourism sector and three were in retail. Of these only one business considered themselves to be dependent on the marine environment. When asked whether they had noticed any changes to their community or business, a few respondents commented that tourism had expanded a great deal and that there were many more cruise liners in recent years. This was not attributed to MPAs. One respondent also commented that the environment was very important in Orkney and that people were much more environmentally conscious than they had been in the past.


The seas around Orkney are exploited by a wide range of marine industries including fishing, aquaculture and renewable energy. Cumulative impacts were an important topic in the area, as each industry shares the area with the others. At present, the cumulative impact of marine developments in the inshore waters around Orkney were not considered to be a significant issue. There were some concerns about how this situation might change, if developments increase or expand.

Tourism is another important industry in the area and there is a project underway to develop a virtual dive project that will enable people to explore the MPA from the land.



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