Five steps to ocean recovery

This year’s National Marine Week runs from 24th July – 8th August. Dr Sam Collin takes a look at the action needed to secure the recovery of Scotland’s seas. 

The seas around Scotland play a central role in our everyday lives. Whether you live in the middle of Stirling or on the coast of the Outer Hebrides, the marine environment is ever-present: from the food we eat and the jobs we do, to the way we heat our homes and where we choose to go on holiday. As a maritime nation, the close and entwined connection we have with the sea is fundamental.  

Maerl bed
Maerl bed © Lisa Kamphausen / NatureScot

While this close relationship has proven highly beneficial to our society, culture and economy, we cannot forget that this relationship works in two directions.  Wherever we live, our everyday actions have an impact on the marine environment. The past belief that the sea can handle any pressure we throw at it, from industrial-scale fishing to sewage and pollution discharge, is simply not true. Today our seas have never been in a poorer state of healthas detailed in the State of Nature Report 2019 

To ensure our prosperous relationship with the sea continues into the future, it is essential that the sea is healthy. In fact, the healthier the sea, the more prosperous our relationship (as explained in Marine Scotland’s ‘Ecosystem Services: Natural benefits of Scotland’s Seas’). We have a national duty to ensure that our seas are cleaner, healthier, and more productive.  

Our seas are becoming increasingly busy, and the expected growth in aquaculture, offshore renewables, and marine tourism will only contribute to declining health of our seas unless fundamental change in how we manage marine activities happens now. 

To achieve this, the Scottish Wildlife Trust teamed up with fellow organisations in Scottish Environment LINK to develop our Ocean Recovery Plan, which sets out a course to ocean recovery by 2030.  

This plan contains the following five key actions (covered in more detail in our Parliamentary Briefing) that are fundamental to delivering healthier seas: 

Introduce legally-binding targets for ocean recovery  

62% of the UK’s domestic ocean is the devolved responsibility of the Scottish Government. There is a unique opportunity to set world-leading, legally binding nature recovery targets to:  

  • Increase wildlife populations and their distribution  
  • End the threat of species going extinct  
  • Increase the extent and quality of Scotland’s habitats above and below the waves. 
  • Scotland’s MPA network © Scottish Government

Strengthen Scotland’s Marine Protected Area network 

At present, 37% of Scotland’s seas (227,622 square kilometres) are covered by some form of Marine Protected Area, but only Lamlash Bay No Take Zone, off the south coast of Arran (an area of just 2.67 square kilometres), offers a high level of protection where no fish or shellfish can be removed.  

We are calling for at least 30% of Scotland’s seas to be highly protected from damaging and highly extractive activities, with at least a third of that (10% of Scotland’s seas) to be fully protected – with no extractive or destructive activities allowed at all. The ecological, social and economic benefits of this approach would be enormous, ensuring long-term ocean resilience and allowing nature and people to thrive.  

Reform fisheries management  

New policies and, where necessary, legislation are needed to support a just transition to a modern, climate and nature positive fishing industry. The new powers in the Fisheries Act 2020, and new policies and legislation arising from Scotland’s Future Fisheries Management strategy, must be used to: 

  • Deliver binding targets to recover all fish stocks 
  • Introduce Remote Electronic Monitoring 
  • Improve inshore fisheries governance, including a presumption against trawling and dredging in a significant part of inshore waters 
  • Introduce a new vessel licensing system that preferentially allocates fishing opportunities to those with proven lower environment impact 
Fish farm in Loch Ainort © Richard Dorrell
Salmon farm in Loch Ainort © Richard Dorrell

Reform aquaculture regulation 

Since the two Scottish Parliament inquiries into salmon farming held in 2018, the majority of action taken has focused on future farms, rather than addressing the high environmental impact of existing ones.  

A review of the environmental impact of existing salmon farms, resulting in the application of effective mitigation, relocation or closure, must be carried out and prioritised over further growth. For more detail see our Finfish Aquaculture policy. 

Increase investment in marine conservation 

Significant investment is vital to give Scottish authorities the capacity to enforce compliance and ensure ocean recovery. The Trust is excited to be part of the new Scottish Marine Environmental Enhancement Fund, but we must build on this initiative and identify new opportunities for investment that include: 

  • An increase in the public budget for marine conservation to ensure recovery 
  • Innovative finance models and scaled up investment  
  • The use of robust enforcement such as fines for environmental damage to encourage best practice 

In the year when Scotland hosts COP26, and at the beginning of both the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, there is a huge opportunity to demonstrate the importance of its seas and show global leadership in effective marine management.  

Delivering the five actions in our Ocean Recovery Plan would be instrumental in reversing the decline in health of our seas, simultaneously fulfilling their potential for delivering benefits to society. 

Dr Sam Collin, Living Seas Manager 

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This year’s National Marine Week runs from 24th July – 8th August. Dr Sam Collin takes a look at the action needed to secure the recovery of Scotland’s seas.  The …

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