Monitoring the socio-economic impacts of Marine Protected Areas: report

10 Nov 2020 04:08 PM

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.

This report provides an assessment of evidence on the socio-economic impacts of Scotland’s Marine Protected Areas (MPA) since management measures were introduced in 2016. In 2019 Marine Scotland began gathering evidence for the second review of socio-economic impacts of Marine Protected Areas on a range of sectors, stakeholders and communities. These included the fishing sector, seafood processing, aquaculture and tourism. Research Approach

A mixed methodological approach was used for this study to bring together both quantitative and qualitative data to comprehensively explore the socio-economic impacts of specific MPA measures in Scotland. This included analysis of: Existing quantitative fishing activity data, employment and compliance that is held by Marine Scotland. Qualitative data collected through interviews with a wide range of key informants and stakeholders including fishermen in communities affected by MPAs during a period of fieldwork in September 2019. Findings from relevant questions in the Marine Social Attitudes survey conducted in 2018.

Four case studies were conducted, based around five MPAs (South Arran MPA, Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura MPA, Wester Ross MPA, Wyre and Rousay Sounds MPA and Sanday SAC) to illustrate the impact of MPAs in specific geographic areas.

Summary of Key Research Findings


This review found that there had been localised positive and negative impacts on coastal communities and industries, associated with MPA management measures. Where impacts were felt, this was often due to a combination of factors, one of which was MPAs.

Socio-economic impacts on the fishing industry

The majority of trawl gear vessels that fished in MPA areas before management measures were introduced were able to adapt by fishing elsewhere, or changing their vessel or gear type. For these vessels landings remained the same or higher. In many cases adapting did come at some personal or financial cost e.g. spending more time at sea, learning to fish in a new area or in a new way. For a small number of trawl gear vessels who fished particularly heavily in MPA areas, landings reduced, suggesting that they were not able to adapt. There were reports of some fishers leaving the industry. There is some evidence that MPAs may have been a contributing factor to declining landings amongst dredge vessels after 2016 but other factors may also be affecting them (as the pattern of decline predates the introduction of management measures in 2016); Static gear fishers reported improved stocks and a reduction in gear conflict, which made them feel more secure in their business. Employment data for port districts near MPAs showed a slight increase on static gear vessels, and a decrease on trawl and dredge vessels on the west coast of Scotland. This was more pronounced in some areas. Fishers reported changing their practices in several ways to adapt to the MPA measures, this was often at some personal cost and inconvenience

Socio-economic impacts on other key industries

Seafood processors tended to be affected in similar ways to fishers and were found to have adapted in similar ways. Those who had been affected were particularly concerned about their ability to retain staff. The main impacts for the aquaculture industry were the increased complexity of planning applications and the associated costs in terms of time, money and staff. Respondents from the tourism industry described positive impacts. They felt that MPAs provided an additional tourist attraction and that improvements in marine wildlife would be beneficial for tourist businesses in nearby areas.

Wider Economic and Social Impacts on local areas

Several organisations and community groups have developed or galvanised around the MPAs. They have organised a large array of activities and events, raising awareness and educating the public about marine conservation and collaborating with research institutions to study the MPAs. Respondents observed improvements in the marine environment, which they attributed to MPAs. According to the Social Attitudes Survey, and the fieldwork questionnaires, the general public tended to be in support of MPAs, though were often unsure what they were.

Wider Context

Respondents from fishing and related industries highlighted that MPA management measures were not the only thing affecting their ability to maintain their businesses. Other issues that were commonly mentioned included:

There is evidence that MPAs have made fishing more challenging in some areas. Some fishing businesses have had to adapt to survive, but some have not been able to. There is also evidence of positive impacts for static gear businesses, tourism, public environmental awareness, research and education. The clearest message from the research, however, is that MPAs are one of the many challenges that face marine industries and their communities at this time. Where impacts were felt, this was often due to a combination of factors, one of which was MPAs. When considered in isolation, MPAs have mostly only a small or very localised direct impact. When evaluated in combination with other existing challenges, however, the cumulative strain can be greater than immediately apparent.

These findings highlight the importance of taking a holistic approach, which takes account of the wider context when carrying out socio-economic impact monitoring.

Monitoring the Socio-economic Impacts of Marine Protected Areas: 2019 Report 134 page PDF, 2.4 MB