Supporting the economic, social and environmental sustainability of the UK's marine sectors

This research considers barriers to sustainable marine economy growth in Scotland and the rest of the UK with particular regard to cross sectoral barriers and market failures.

2 Introduction


2.1 ekosgen was commissioned by Marine Scotland in January 2019 to develop an evidence base for the UK’s marine economy, to inform the preparation of future support mechanisms for marine sector activity. Central to this was an exploration of the economic, social and environmental sustainability of seven of the UK’s marine sectors. For the purposes of this research, these sectors are:

  • Commercial capture fishing;
  • Aquaculture;
  • Seafood processing;
  • Commercial seaweed harvesting and growing;
  • Offshore renewable energy;
  • Oil and gas decommissioning;
  • Marine tourism.

2.2 Future financial or technical support mechanisms must address any potential scope to maximise the economic growth of the UK’s marine sectors, as well as ensuring that the benefits of growth are distributed fairly across society to be enjoyed by future generations. Consequently, evidence was required on the market failures and economic growth constraints facing the seven sectors. The evidence provided in this report is intended to guide policy in how best to support the sustainable growth of the different sectors in a strategic and streamlined way.


2.3 Broadly, the research aimed to provide an evidence base to help guide policies to ensure the economic, social and environmental sustainability of the seven marine economic sectors identified. The key objectives of the research as set out by Marine Scotland were:

  • Provide a sectoral overview and analysis of long term growth patterns of each UK marine sector and in each UK country, with consideration for trends and benchmarking across comparable countries where relevant. This included analysis of output, GVA, labour productivity, employment, trade patterns and distribution of impacts from the industry;
  • Identify market failures and non-legislative constraints that hinder growth and the wider distribution of benefits and environmental sustainability, with specific geographic and sectoral evidence of failures and constraints highlighted;
  • Provide an overview of existing support measures, mapping sources, levels and types of support (such as financial or technical) that are available to each marine sector across the UK; and
  • Identify priority areas for future action.


2.4 The approach to the study has incorporated desk research around market failures, constraints and sectoral contextualisation, as well as consultations and workshops with key industry figures. Specifically, the research included:

  • Desk review of market failures and constraints, and a subsequent report;
  • Industry/informant workshops held in Belfast, Cardiff and Newcastle, and consultations with 31 key industry stakeholders from across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales;
  • Baseline socio-economic analysis of the seven key UK marine sectors; and
  • Development of a support mechanism framework mapping financial, technical and other support sources available to businesses and actors across the seven marine sectors.

Research challenges

2.5 The research contended with a number of significant challenges, largely related to the engagement of key stakeholders. In a number of instances, this research coincided with other research and consultation programmes being undertaken at a UK level, or within the devolved administrations, such as the Welsh Government’s Brexit and Our Seas consultation. Indeed, Brexit preparations have had a considerable impact on the availability of partners and stakeholders.

2.6 Further, many stakeholders have been extensively consulted in recent years, e.g. on skills issues in aquaculture, or on the development of Science and Innovation Audits (SIAs) as part of the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy. As such, there is a high degree of consultation and survey fatigue amongst stakeholders, resulting in a reluctance to participate in further research. Relevant findings from these commissions have been incorporated into the desk based review element of this work, and reflected appropriately in this report.

2.7 Finally, some more practical factors have impacted on the availability of consultees. Day job commitments have served to limit the availability of senior staff within organisations. Additionally, geographical factors presented challenges for stakeholders invited to participate in workshops – a particular challenge in Scotland for a relatively disparate group of stakeholders, which ultimately meant that a workshop in Scotland was not possible.

Report structure

2.8 The report is structured as follows:

  • Chapter 2 sets out an overview of each of the seven UK marine sectors, accounting for the performance of each sector, as well as successes and challenges;
  • Chapter 3 draws on the primary and secondary research undertaken to examine the challenges and constraints of each sector, considering challenges around human, environmental/natural, infrastructure, financial, technological, political and community/social capital;
  • Chapter 4 provides an overview of existing support mechanisms, identifying the main mechanisms across the EU, UK and national/devolved/local levels and any gaps or issues around support mechanisms; and
  • Chapter 5 highlights priority and action areas, including suggested strategic actions for the future.

2.9 A number of appendices accompany this report and are available under Supporting Documents:

  • Appendix 1 sets out the in-depth sector baseline analyses;
  • Appendix 2 contains the detailed literature review;
  • Appendix 3 maps the existing financial and technical support mechanisms available to businesses and actors in marine sectors; and
  • Appendix 4 sets out the list of consultees.

Overview boxes

2.10 Throughout the report, in relation to each of the seven marine sectors, ‘at-a-glance’ summary boxes are used to provide an overview with respect to the economic baseline or constraints and challenges for each sector.

2.11 Each at-a-glance summary box provides an assessment at the UK level, and also for each country where data allow. The assessment uses a colour-coded scheme to indicate the performance of each sector (Figure 1.1), and the degree to which constraints and challenges impact on each sector (Figure 1.2).

2.12 For the economic baseline, each sector is assessed against different economic measures (e.g. employment, turnover, etc.). The growth of each sector across each of these measures is assessed in absolute terms across the time period in question (e.g. 2013-17), rather than in comparison with other sectors’ performance or with that of the economy as a whole, and is informed by the consultants’ expert judgement arising from the data analysis.

Figure 1.1: Example at-a-glance sector economic baseline assessment summary box
Business base Employment Turnover GVA Trade Impact distribution
Northern Ireland


++ Strong growth; widespread distribution of impacts

+ Weak or no growth; weak distribution of impacts

- Weak negative growth; poor distribution of impacts

-- Substantial negative growth; very poor impact distribution

N/A No data available

2.13 For constraints and challenges, each sector is assessed against broad categories or ‘capitals’.

Figure 1.2: Example at-a-glance sector constraints assessment box
Human/skills Environmental/ Natural Infrastructure Financial Technological Political/co-ordination Community/ social
Northern Ireland

2.14 The assessment is based on the consultants’ expert judgement, drawing from the analysis of the nature of constraints and challenges identified through this research.

2.15 It should be noted that the at-a-glance assessments are not intended to provide a definitive verdict, but rather to illustrate economic performance or constraints to growth.



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