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 8. Compliance

This section explores the extent to which MPA management measures have been complied with since they were introduced in 2016 using some of the data that is collected by Marine Scotland Compliance and some of the evidence obtained in the key informant interviews.

On the whole MPA management measures are being complied with. Where incursions are reported this is usually for legitimate reasons. Data shows that it is, nonetheless, difficult to bring enforcement or prosecution due to the need to have robust evidence proving that illegal fishing activity has taken place.


Marine Scotland compliance is responsible for enforcing compliance with MPA management measures and for monitoring activity across the MPA network. Compliance monitoring is carried out by boat, by air, from the shore, using the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS), or through reports from the public.

When a report of a possible incursion into an MPA is received, a preliminary assessment is first carried out to determine whether immediate action is possible. Reports are often made after the event and so the prospect of immediate action is limited.

Evidence is then gathered using information from the other monitoring methods e.g. VMS to assess the validity reports of breaches of management measures. If evidence is strong enough, a skipper of a vessel alleged to have offended may be interviewed. Where evidence indicates that serious breaches of management measures have occurred, the matter may be referred to the Procurator Fiscal who in turn may decide to pursue a prosecution.

However, more commonly, if a skipper is found to have broken the law, a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) is issued.

8.1 Data on MPA incursions and reports

Marine Scotland Compliance hold data on the number of reports, monitoring effort and prosecutions related to MPAs in Scotland. Table 8.1 shows the number of reports of suspected incursions each year for each MPA from August 2015-end December 2019. Most MPAs have had few reports of incursions in that time period, which suggests widespread compliance with management measures.

Despite this general trend, there are a few areas where reports are far more common such as the Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura MPA and the South Arran MPA which have generated approximately 10-20 times more reports than the other MPAs. This is shown in table 8.1.

It was apparent from interviews with compliance staff that this high number is because in some areas some vessels are allowed in the MPA for certain activities such as transit or shelter. Some of the MPAs are associated with ports and fishing vessels pass through the area legitimately.

Table 8.1 Number of reported incursions each year, in each MPA, from 2015 -2019.
MPA or other closed area name 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 Total
Clyde Sea Sill 1 1
East Mingulay 1 1 1 1 4
Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura 1 12 9 6 9 37
Loch Creran 1 2 3
Loch Carron 3 3
Loch Sween 3 2 5
Luce Bay 1 1
South Arran 4 26 13 10 19 72
South Inner Sound Seasonal Closure 1 1 2 4
St. Kilda 1 1
Upper Loch Fyne and Loch Goil 7 3 1 4 15
Wester Ross 4 2 2 5 13
Total 9 54 31 22 43 159

Table 8.2 shows the enforcement outcomes of suspected incursions from August 2015- end December 2019. Only a small proportion of reports lead to some form of enforcement. The main reason for this, as suggested in the interviews with compliance staff, is that some of the reported incursions are legal and do not require enforcement. There is also difficulty in providing sufficient evidence for enforcement action to be taken. For example, the vessel ID, a description, and photograph including fixed reference point, and proof that the vessel had gear deployed in the MPA is needed. Suspected incursions are rarely reported 'in real time' and it is difficult to collect adequate evidence after the fact.

Table 8.2 Enforcement outcomes, August 2015 - end December 2019
Year No Further Action Advisory Letter Warning Letter Fixed Penalty Notice Referred to COPFS
2016 1
2017 1 1
2018 1* 1 1 1**
2019 4 3 **/***

* No offence committed

** 1 case in 2018 and 1 case in 2019 referred to Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) following non Payment of Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN)

*** 1 Case in process of being submitted to COPFS

Following risk assessment and intelligence processes, it was agreed that as one of the busiest areas of inshore waters, the Firth of Clyde, which covers the South Arran and Upper Loch Fyne and Loch Goil Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), and No Take Zone, would be the best place to run a pilot Inshore Protection Programme.

The trial is being undertaken by a Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boat (RHIB) called 'Dignity' which will enable MS compliance to be onsite anywhere in the pilot area within an hour.

8.2 Interview results

The theme of 'compliance' was mentioned by 36 of the 99 respondents who were interviewed. The number of times this issue was mentioned was similar across different groups, as can be seen in Table 8.3.

Table 8.3 Number of times compliance was mentioned by different groups
Fishing Representative Static Mobile Compliance officer eNGO Other
Mentioned compliance 5 5 5 7 8 6


Of these, 24 respondents said that they were aware of incursions happening in MPAs. Four respondents said that they were not aware of incursions in their area. Ten respondents recounted specific events while a further 10 spoke more generally of having heard of incursions in MPAs. On a few occasions the same event was mentioned by several respondents.

Stakeholders who mentioned incursions (9 and 12 respectively) did so mainly in relation to South Arran and Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura MPA case study areas. These MPAs were also described as having the most reports of incursions by compliance officers who were interviewed.

Additional points on Compliance

In interviews Marine Scotland Compliance officers explained that they have visited community groups to provide training in how to spot illegal activities, how to report them and how to provide good quality evidence. These events were thought to be successful and officers remarked that the quality of reports had improved. Some community groups have produced information leaflets to help people report illegal activities in the MPAs.

Some respondents expressed some dissatisfaction with the level of monitoring and enforcement of MPA management measures arguing that they felt that there was insufficient resources available to Marine Scotland Compliance for the task of monitoring MPAs. This sentiment was expressed by eNGOs and fishers alike. Fishers expressed frustration at the thought that some people could be getting away with fishing illegally in MPAs and exploiting a resource that they are aware is to be protected. There was also a feeling that people committing such actions give fishers in general a bad name and undermine the benefits that the MPA is supposed to offer.



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