Environment committee urges Executive to reform marine law


The Scottish Parliament’s Environment and Rural Development Committee has called on the Executive to undertake urgent, comprehensive reform of marine environment legislation after finding existing laws complex and inadequate.

The Committee’s report calls for the introduction of a single, integrated, regulatory system to co-ordinate competing activities in the marine environment.

Reporting on its inquiry into the marine environment, the Committee identifies the huge challenge that exists in managing marine resources effectively. Scottish legislation, it insists, must be reviewed alongside reforms being planned by the UK Government.

The report recognises the immense natural, economic, social and cultural value of Scotland’s seas. Effective management is essential if that value is going to be maintained in the face of growing pressures.

Committee Convener, Maureen Macmillan MSP, said:

“A huge range of economic activities depend on the health of our seas – including fishing, aquaculture, tourism and leisure activities. We need to get the right legislation and management to control the pressures created by the different activities.

“The committee welcomes the increasing political focus on the management of the marine environment, and the work done by the Minister’s advisory group on the marine and coastal strategy (known as AGMACS). We look forward to receiving this groups’ report which is due to be published later today.

“Our inquiry found that existing legislation is complex and is inadequate to protect our seas. Overlaps between devolved and reserved responsibilities add to the complexity. We need clear and ambitious objectives to direct policy. Comprehensive Scottish marine legislation must simplify regulation and resolve this complexity.”

A further essential element is the introduction of a statutory planning system to manage activities in the marine environment. This should involve local communities, but also link to national and international priorities and be accountable to the Parliament.

The Committee’s recommendations include:

  • The Executive should prioritise measures to bring available data together in a manner which is appropriate and accessible to both the scientific and policy-making communities.

  • The practical detail of objectives for management of the marine environment must be developed urgently in order to provide clear and ambitious goals that can give direction to policy.

  • The Executive should take steps towards achieving a single integrated regulatory system for all marine activities in Scotland, properly integrated with regulation at UK Government level so that some of the complex overlaps and divisions between jurisdictions are resolved.

  • The example of the regulation of proposed ship-to-ship oil transfers in the Forth illustrates that existing legislation is not adequate to govern the marine environment in a coherent way or to give important natural features adequate protection. This reinforces the need for comprehensive reform of marine environment legislation to be taken forward by bills on both a UK and Scottish level.

  • Establishing a coherent network of marine protected areas should be a significant objective of legislative reform. This should not prevent individual initiatives of value being taken forward meantime.

  • A statutory system of marine spatial planning should be established in Scotland. This should address the need for local stakeholder input, but also integrate with UK, EU and international objectives and deal with cross-boundary complexities. The Executive must consider how the marine spatial planning system and structures can be subject to democratic input and be accountable to the Parliament.

  • The Executive should consider the future structure and funding of the local coastal partnerships as quickly as possible, and develop them to cover the whole of the Scottish coastline adequately.

  • An accountable marine management organisation for Scotland must simplify governance and not add another layer to existing regulation.

Background notes

Evidence to the Committee’s inquiry showed that Scotland’s coastline is approximately 11,500km long, equivalent to around 60 per cent of the UK’s coastline and 10 per cent of Europe’s total coastline. It has an exceptionally varied character, with diverse geological features including steep cliffs, deep sea lochs, islands, rocky reefs, seacaves, sandy beaches, machair, lagoons, salt marshes, estuaries and firths.

Scotland’s territorial waters (the area from the coast to 12 nautical miles off-shore) cover a greater area than its landmass. Scotland’s fisheries zone (within 200 miles of the coast) covers 127,000 square miles of sea, nearly one quarter of EU waters.

Scotland is regarded as having a particularly rich and biologically productive marine environment. Scotland’s waters are estimated to be home to over 8,000 species of plants, invertebrates, fish, birds and mammals, as well as tens of thousands of other species, including several globally-significant populations.

Over 70 per cent of the Scottish population lives within 10km of the coasts and 20 per cent within 1 km, and the sea and coast-based activities hold an iconic place in the culture, leisure activity and quality of life of many Scots – as well as being the focus for the economic livelihood of many areas. The local economy of particular areas of Scotland depends very significantly on industries such as sea fisheries or aquaculture. Marine fish farming in the UK is entirely confined to Scottish waters. Two of the UK’s five busiest ports are in Scotland. The Scottish Coastal Forum estimated in 2000 that the annual income relating to marine activities in the area between 1km off-shore and 1km inland was £4.5 billion. For example:

  • recreational sea angling is worth over £150 million a year to the Scottish economy

  • Members of the British Marine Federation in Scotland – a representative body for the leisure marine industry – have a combined annual turnover of £89.2m and directly employ around 2000 people

  • Scotland is considered to be one of the top six sailing destinations in the world

  • marine wildlife watching supports 2500 jobs and creates £57 million of annual revenue.

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