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Seaweed Policy Statement Consultation Analysis Report 2014

Analysis of the responses received from the Draft Seaweed Policy Statement Consultation 2013.


7 Section 3 - Related issues

This section sets out the quantitative analysis of responses about the harvesting of wild seaweed, and widening the range of species that can be farmed using aquaculture. It provides a summary of the comments made and issues raised by respondents. (These are summarised and discussed under the relevant questions.) Summaries of the findings are presented in boxes at the end of the discussion on each consultation question.

7.1 Overview

7.1.1 This section of the Consultation Document discussed the harvesting of seaweed in the wild, with particular focus on aspirations for the sector and options for managing its sustainable growth through promoting good practice and mitigating against potential adverse environmental effects.

7.2 Question 7: Should guidance be developed for the harvesting of wild seaweed? If not, what (if any) alternative arrangements would you suggest?

Sector Yes No Not answered
1. Seaweed Industry 4
2. Aquaculture Industry 2
3. Fishing and Aquaculture Industry 1
4. Fishing Industry 1 4
5. Cultural Heritage/Archaeological 1 1
6. Recreational Sector 1
7. Voluntary Sector 1
8. Academic Sector 3
9. Public Body 9 3
10. Farming and Land Use 1
11. Individual 1 1
12. Withheld 2
Overall 25 0 11

7.2.1 Of those who answered the question, all respondents supported the development of guidance.

Support for guidance

7.2.2 There was general consensus that wild harvesting effort is likely to increase in future as popularity grows and new opportunities arise and, as such, it was felt by many that guidance is necessary to avoid over-exploitation of the resource and to promote sustainability.

Support for regulation

7.2.3 Eight respondents considered that control of the wild harvesting sector is needed, as well as guidance. Of these eight, most felt that it would be prudent to develop a regulatory mechanism now, before the industry expands and adverse impacts occur that will affect the sustainability of harvesting or result in significant adverse environmental effects. One or two considered that regulation would only be necessary as the wild harvesting sector targets larger areas or begins to use mechanised harvesting equipment. It was suggested that, for small-scale activity, using an approach such as General Binding Rules [8] and accompanying best practice guidance might be more appropriate than regulation.

7.2.4 There was little consensus regarding the form that regulation should take. Both planning consent and marine licensing were suggested; one respondent suggested using the Norwegian regulatory framework as a model. Only one respondent, a public sector body, suggested a mechanism for control of existing (as opposed to new) commercial harvesting activities; they proposed that a certificate of lawfulness (or similar) be issued by the planning authority. Several noted that exemptions would be needed for personal use and/or use by crofters. It was, however, noted that some definition of scale would be needed to ensure that potentially damaging large-scale mechanised activity can be adequately controlled.

7.2.5 A few other respondents, however, while supportive of the development of guidance, were not supportive of a regulatory regime being developed or proposed a mix of both a regulatory mechanism and guidance. They felt that without evidence that the current level of wild harvesting is having an impact, and while this activity continues at a small scale, there appears to be little requirement for regulation.

7.2.6 One respondent from the seaweed industry requested that licensing should be such that it allows both a commercially and environmentally sustainable harvest. They made suggestions about the preferred physical extent, duration and territorial exclusivity of leases to facilitate, for example, rotational harvesting, return on investment, etc.

Guidance development

7.2.7 Some respondents noted current and existing work that could be drawn upon. One public body respondent, for example, noted that they have worked with Natural England to draw up a harvesting Code of Conduct and are currently in discussion with SNH about developing a similar approach in Scotland. Other examples of codes of practice included that developed by the Environmental and Heritage Service in Northern Ireland, and company-specific guidance prepared by one of the industry respondents.

7.2.8 Some of the respondents, from a range of sectors, offered to assist with the development of guidance and/ or a Code of Practice (CoP), or requested that they be consulted, possibly through some sort of formal process, to ensure that their area of expertise is taken into account during guidance development. One respondent from the seaweed industry felt that the process of developing guidance should be co-led by industrial users so that the guidance is balanced between commercial practicality and effective marine management. They also considered that guidance should be informed by actual experience of harvesting in Scottish waters rather than relying on experience elsewhere that may not be relevant.

7.2.9 It was suggested that the guidance should include:

  • best practice, based on a "whole system approach" both to protect the marine environment and to prevent over-exploitation of wild stocks e.g. by avoiding negative impacts on the seaweeds' reproductive cycle.
  • advice on sustainable methods for harvesting on the foreshore; need for rotation of harvesting locations; and advice on the necessary evidence of aptitude, qualifications or regulatory compliance with Food Standards Agency strictures.
  • baseline information, e.g. existing seaweed stocks; measures of ecosystem functioning such as the role of storm-cast material in supporting beach and dune ecosystems; other stressors on the local environment, including climate change and other relevant land, coast and marine usages and their environmental implications ( e.g. agricultural run-off); awareness of the risks to water quality from sewage discharges.
  • advice on the potential impacts of seaweed harvesting, including: species and habitat loss/damage or disturbance, e.g. fish breeding grounds, nursery areas for commercially important fish species, otters and their habitat, micro and macro fauna and other associated macro-algae, seabirds, designated sites (including the duration of identified effects on functioning ecosystems); visual impacts; public access across the foreshore; and the potential impacts of harvesting on Scottish Water assets.
  • possible mitigation measures, for example, avoiding the commercial harvest of wild seaweed within the six MPAs proposed to protect black guillemot; avoiding seaweed harvesting close to wild fisheries.
  • monitoring. One respondent from the seaweed industry felt that implementation of monitoring procedures should not be a "paper exercise" but must actually be undertaken, both at harvesting sites and of product e.g. to ensure that it is being cut correctly, amongst others.
  • It was suggested by one public body respondent that guidance should also consider the promotion of potential environmental benefits.

7.2.10 Two respondents felt that any guidance or CoP would need to give consideration to how the requirements of the Habitats Directive regarding Natura sites and European Protected Species will be fulfilled; one of these suggested that "the absence of legal controls on the harvesting of seaweed might entail an infringement of the Habitats …Directive in the case of European sites".

Research and current lack of evidence

7.2.11 Current lack of evidence about the potential impacts of wild seaweed harvesting was noted by a few respondents. It was felt by one respondent that if wild harvesting is to be expanded in a sustainable manner, updated surveys should be undertaken to determine current standing stocks and the recommended level of exploitation to ensure sustainability of the resource. It was also recommended by another respondent that the research needed to underpin guidance should take into account other stressors on the local environment, for example, climate change and other coastal and marine usages.

Scale of wild harvesting activities

7.2.12 The potential scale of harvesting activities was discussed in relation to both the provision of guidance and implementation of regulatory measures. One public body respondent felt that, given that interest in the use of seaweed is increasing, it would seem sensible to consider a scale at which some form of consent process would be required, to allow potential environmental impacts from large-scale harvesting to be managed.

Question 7 summary:

  • All respondents supported the development of guidance for the harvesting of wild seaweed. Many felt that this sector will expand in the future and that control is essential.
  • Several respondents felt that the Scottish Government should introduce regulation of seaweed harvesting, instead of or as well as guidance. There was little consensus regarding the form that regulation should take: planning consent, marine licensing and use of General Binding Rules were all suggested.
  • There was also disagreement about the timing of regulation. Some wanted it now, in preparation for expansion of the industry; others felt that it should wait until expansion begins.
  • Several respondents noted that there was current and existing work that can be used to underpin the development of guidance and provided examples.
  • There were many helpful suggestions for the content of the guidance, as well as calls for research into the environmental effects of wild seaweed harvesting to assist guidance preparation.

7.3 Question 8: Should the 1997 Act be amended to provide the flexibility to farm other species or specifically named species? State what named species should be included, and provide your reasons.

Sector Yes No Not answered
1. Seaweed Industry 4
2. Aquaculture Industry 2
3. Fishing and Aquaculture Industry 1
4. Fishing Industry 1 4
5. Cultural Heritage/Archaeological 1 1
6. Recreational Sector 1
7. Voluntary Sector 1
8. Academic Sector 2 1
9. Public Body 8 1 3
10. Farming and Land Use 1
11. Individual 2
12. Withheld 2
Overall 21 2 13

7.3.1 Twenty-one respondents supported this policy, across a range of sectors, including most public bodies. The proposal was opposed by two respondents from two different sectors.

7.3.2 Many of those who supported an amendment to the Act felt that this would support the industry by ensuring that planning legislation is sufficiently flexible to allow for diversification. One public body respondent felt, however, that regard must be given to ensure that there is no risk of any potential invasive species being introduced out with their native range. They further stated that, to ensure compliance with the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011, it must be guaranteed that any species cultured are not released or allowed to escape out with their native range.

7.3.3 Concern was raised by one respondent, not supportive of this proposal, that the farming of additional, currently wild, marine organisms could have a detrimental effect on both natural communities and currently farmed species.

7.3.4 Views varied on whether specific species should be named. Some respondents thought that this should remain open, providing flexibility as technology and markets develop. They felt that defining a species in the legislation would be unnecessarily restrictive. One respondent felt this was especially pertinent to IMTA systems, as the combinations (and relative quantities) of species that might be used remain unclear. Another respondent felt that if species are to be named, this should not limit farmers but provide a useful reference to build upon.

7.3.5 Other views were that the species of seaweed should be kept open and only limited to native species; the genetic integrity of the local environment should be respected; and research should be carried out to ensure that cultivation of specifically named species will not have a negative impact. Another respondent felt that the possible ecological and environmental impacts of farming new species should be at the heart of any consent process, while another respondent suggested that consideration should be given on a case-by-case basis after an evidence-based assessment has been carried out.

7.3.6 It was suggested, however, by another respondent not supportive of amending the 1997 Act, that there needs to be more detailed information on types of species and methods of farming and a greater understanding of potential impacts before it can be fully understood if the 1997 Act and the planning process comprise the most appropriate legislation and regime.

7.3.7 Those respondents who provided views on particular species recommended: that the 1997 Act be amended to replace sea-urchins with echinoderms, as this allows for current and potential future species (sea cucumbers and starfish) to be included; and the inclusion of abalone, macroalgae/seaweed species and marine worms such as lug worm and rag worm, amongst others. It was noted by a couple of respondents that the developing practice of locating wrasse and other small fish alongside farmed salmon to control sea lice could also be considered to constitute IMTA.

Question 8 summary:

  • The majority of respondents supported an amendment to the 1997 Act that would provide the flexibility to farm other species or specifically named species.
  • Proviso that this should not encourage invasive non-native species.
  • There was disagreement as to whether specific species should be named.
  • Respondents opposed to this move considered that there needs to be more detailed information on types of species and methods of farming and a greater understanding of potential impacts before taking it forward.

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