Developing a Strategic Framework for Scotland's Marine Environment

Developing a Strategic Framework for Scotland's Marine Environment

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) is pleased to respond to the Scottish Executive Environment Group consultation on Developing a Strategic Framework for Scotland 's Marine Environment. This response has been compiled by the General Secretary, Professor Andrew Miller and the Research Officer, Dr Marc Rands, with the assistance of a number of Fellows with considerable experience in this area.

The need to develop a comprehensive strategy for managing Scotland 's marine environment is clear. For many decades the estuarine and inshore waters of central Scotland were heavily polluted with sewage and industrial wastes. It is only since the introduction of the Tidal Waters Orders and particularly the coming of EC legislation (for example, Directives on Bathing Waters, Shellfish waters, Urban Waste Waters and Habitats), and the efforts of the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), and its predecessor bodies, and Scottish Natural Heritage that progress has begun to take place.

On the whole, the consultation paper is a sound document. However, it is often very general and vague, and considerable effort will need to be invested to achieve some of the aims expressed, given the current level of knowledge and the conflicting interests involved. The different questions in the consultation paper are now addressed below.

Do you endorse the strategic vision for Scotland ’s marine environment?

We endorse the strategic aims of the framework, namely:

Improving water quality

Maintaining and improving the licensing regime for deposits in the sea

Continuing to improve capability for responding to marine pollution incidents

Improving the co-ordination of offshore renewable energy related development

Promoting environmental best practice in ports and harbours works

Promoting sustainable fisheries

Promoting sustainable aquaculture

Promoting sustainable tourism

Conservation and enhancement of biodiversity and protection of important marine habitats

Developing an integrated approach to coastal zone management

Developing a management framework for the marine environment

The emphasis on holistic approaches (such as ecosystems rather than individual species) and integrated management is to be welcomed.  

Are there any drivers/pressures on the marine environment that have not yet been addressed in the strategic vision and the key commitments?

Mention should be made of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and due account taken of it in developing the draft Framework, and of the role of the environment as a sink and processor of effluent and other pollution from industry and urban centres. The source of natural compounds and genetic information within the marine environment should also be recognised, in terms of marine biotechnology.

Other pressures on the marine environment such as power boats and jet-skis, as well as the ecological impact of coolant water and waste disposal from nuclear power should also be mentioned.

Are there any actions that remain to be addressed outside the various existing initiatives and activities?

The Strategic Framework needs to include action on the science and information needed to underpin its development, both in terms of blue-skies and horizon-scanning activities as well as near-market, applied activities. Such action could be mapped out through the development of a Scottish Marine Science Strategy, that has been currently undertaken by Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

The dumping of litter should also be addressed, the cleaning up of which in the past having being undertaken by bodies such as SEPA, Keep Britain Tidy, the Marine Conservation Society, schools and other relevant bodies. Environmental education will also be an important way of increasing public awareness of Scotland ’s marine environment and its related problems, and should be an integral part of the Framework.

Consideration should also be given to the effects of long sea outfalls, which discharge sewage effluent away from bathing water, on marine mammals such as dolphins and porpoises as they are vulnerable to microbial infections in the same ways as the human population.

How might current and any additional drivers/pressures on the marine environment best be addressed?

There is a need to: develop strategic goals with clear timescales; improve co-ordination and integration between regulators and agencies; improve management arrangements involving stakeholders; and review/improve existing legislation. However, there is an overriding need to improve knowledge and understanding of the marine environment by relevant research and monitoring. The funding to achieve this should be targeted, and encourage more partnership between Government, university and Research Council institutions.

Implementation of the Water Framework Directive

We are pleased to note that legislation will extend this Directive in Scotland out to three nautical miles Baseline monitoring of water quality, species diversity and of coastal features, especially recently discovered coral reefs, is urgently required.

Implementation of the Bathing Water Directive

Research on the relationship between water quality and infections in bathers, aqualung users, water skiers and yachtsmen should be increased, with a view to setting more stringent, science based, water quality standards. These standards should apply not solely near the beaches but close to the outlets from long sea outfalls.

Strategic Framework for the Scottish Sea Fishing Industry

In relation to this activity, we would recommend that the Framework take account of the recent RSE inquiry into the Future of the Scottish Fishing Industry, published in March this year, which outlines realistic options for developing fisheries which are genuinely sustainable and economically viable in the long term.

Scottish Biodiversity Strategy

This, together with the specific marine and coastal implementation plan under preparation, is to be strongly welcomed. It will be important, however, to maintain and improve the biodiversity of marine habitats, not only in terms of the highly visible fauna and flora but equally the less visible smaller environmental components such as nematodes and micro-organisms. These neglected organisms play an important role in the biological and biochemical processes which influence the survival of larger organisms.

How can we measure progress with these? What sort of indicators should be developed to assess progress towards the sustainable development of Scotland’s marine environment?

Progress in improving and conserving the marine environment can only be measured by careful monitoring and refinement of the criteria which we use to judge both environmental quality and sustainability. A national monitoring system, defined for the needs of Scottish coastal waters and their use, should therefore be developed with appropriate spatial and temporal resolution for policy use.

More attention should also be given to identifying indicator species. Given the practical difficulties of understanding the dynamics of marine ecosystems, using benchmark levels of indicator species populations may be one of the most feasible methods of future management. Such species need to have a range of characteristics such as:

Visibility; i.e. it is relatively easy to gather data about their populations, movements and interactions with other species;

Importance; i.e. they form a major component of the trophic structure;

Responsive; i.e. specific characteristics of the species, such as behaviour or population levels need to be responsive to changes in the environment and these need to be understood in terms of the spatial and temporal resolutions they represent.

Valuable; i.e. it is helpful if they are seen by the public as valued components of the ecosystem.

In many ways, these indicator species of the marine environment are best characterised by the species at the upper end of the trophic structure. This is because they are down-stream from the main energy (and pollutant) flows within the ecosystem and are, therefore, most likely to integrate a response over wide spatial and temporal scales. Most of these species are represented by seabirds, seals, cetaceans and some of the larger predatory fish and sharks. Establishing threshold or target characteristics for the populations of these species will likely ensure that the ecosystem structure that underpins their existence is well-founded.

Should a system of marine spatial planning be established in Scottish waters?

The development of a spatial planning system is to be warmly welcomed.

The Scottish Executive is committed to developing an ecosystem approach to managing the marine environment but there are various definitions of what this means. Do you agree with the definition? How should we give effect to an ecosystem approach in the marine environment? Should this be Scotland-wide, regional or local? What might the key components of such an approach be?

Ecosystem based approaches to marine management is cautiously accepted by the scientific establishment. It is endorsed by the European Commission as a defining characteristic of the revised Common Fisheries Policy and is promoted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. It is, therefore, not so much a new approach as an emerging feature of marine management.

However, there is no clear understanding of what an ecosystem approach means in practice and this goes a long way to explaining the hesitancy in embracing the concept by most of those concerned. It is a concept, still in its infancy, which is exploited by different interest groups in support of their own agendas and thus it assumes a wide range of meanings in different contexts. The definition in the consultation paper is welcome but how it is to be applied is still unclear.

Adopting an ecosystem based approach to fisheries management implies no more than using our developing knowledge and understanding of marine ecosystems to modify systems of managing fish stock conservation to try to prevent further impairment of marine biodiversity. As understanding of marine ecosystems increases, it should be possible to rely less on the ‘blunt instruments’ of single species TACs and quotas, and put greater trust in technical conservation measures. But to attain such a position will require more investment in the marine sciences in general and a realignment of fisheries science from its preoccupation with stock assessment to more emphasis on species interaction. In coming to understand the dynamics of the food chains and flows of energy within the ecosystem, a more reasoned response could be provided to a number of issues, such as industrial fisheries and seal populations.

In terms of the application of the approach, while there should be international and UK contexts, an overall strategy needs to be implemented at regional and local levels. A Scotland wide approach would be an important first step.

How should the effective stewardship/governance of Scotland’s marine environment be achieved? Do you think that the current system is capable of delivering sustainable management of our marine environment? If not what are the key issues that need to be addressed to resolve the situation? What sort of mechanism/body is needed to do this?

The present system has failed to deliver sustainable management of some key aspects of the marine environment. At present a plethora of organisations are involved in the care, knowledge and exploitation of the marine environment which have grown as need dictated. There needs to be better integration and streaming of this large and varied expertise. Some form of central co-ordinating body to oversee stewardship and research investment would be beneficial along with more direct engagement with the scientific community in the universities and research institutes in Scotland, and with the UK Research Councils.

In the context of marine fisheries, this is given detailed consideration in the RSE's report of the Inquiry into the Future of the Scottish Fishing Industry, and especially how industry might be given greater involvement in the stewardship of Scotland's marine environment. Three options proposed in the Report include:

An authority governed by a Board appointed by the Scottish Minister with members drawn from the industry but with other lay members with relevant expertise or interest. It would advise the Minister on all matters relating to fisheries and their management in Scottish waters, including policy formulation, monitoring and assessment; surveillance and enforcement; and scientific research. Similar authorities exist elsewhere in Europe both within and outwith the EU. The new authority would take over the existing agencies, FRS and SFPA, and it would be for consideration how it should relate to Seafish (economic analysis, marketing advice) and Seafood Scotland. Funding would come principally from the Scottish Executive, rolling up the current budgets for FRS and SFPA and with an element of direct funding from the fishing industry.

To establish separate Boards for the management of FRS and SFPA, which are presently semi-independent agencies. The Minister would be responsible for appointing these Boards and membership would be drawn from the industry and from other persons with relevant interests. The chairperson should be independent and the Executive should continue to provide funding.

To establish a forum, chaired by the Scottish Fisheries Minister, with membership drawn from industry, science and persons with expertise in fishing matters. This would be a deliberative body but would provide an opportunity for all those with relevant interests and experience in the catching sector to debate the issues confronting the industry and to advise the Minister.

The RSE attaches great importance to a better understanding being achieved between the industry, scientists, environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and Government. These options are ways in which this might be done. Option 3 could be combined with either Option 1 or 2.

It is possibly at the local level - and in relation to inshore fisheries - that the most pressing need to create the conditions for participative governance arises. Co-operation and self-reliance begin with the local community; if they cannot flourish at this level, there can be little hope for their success at higher levels.  The arrangements for inshore management in Scotland lag behind those in England and Wales in that there are no devolved structures within which these attributes can grow. While the existing system may suit the need to regulate access to specific inshore waters to avoid gear conflicts, it does not satisfy the conditions for resource conservation so well. Nor does it fit the requirement for environmental integration. There is therefore the need to put in place regional inshore management committees with a broad remit in relation to both fisheries and mariculture.

Is there a role for marine national parks in managing areas of our marine environment? If so, what should be the key elements of marine national parks? Should they be entirely marine, or should they encompass part of the coastline?

The inclusion of marine areas (including sea lochs) into national parks is to be welcomed. Because of legislative complexity, they have often been neglected in conservation terms, despite their importance to Scotland's economy and natural environment. There is also a major focus on intergovernmental agreements to set up a network of ‘Marine Protected Areas’ (MPAs) intended to ensure (among wider objectives) that currently depleted fish species are restored to levels where they play their historic functional role within the wider food webs of which they are part.

A marine protected area can be considered as any area of the intertidal or subtidal terrain, together with its overlying water and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by law, or other effective means, with the aim of protecting species, habitats, ecosystems or ecological processes of the marine environment. In some cases, it would be essential to include some element of the coastline, but the extent of this would be determined by the interactions within the chosen (eco)system - how it functions as a whole.

MPAs raise a number of challenges, not least of which are knowing how to set restoration targets in systems whose species can fluctuate enormously due to natural causes (and now potentially due to anthropogenic factors such as climate change); and how to apply a concept of fixed protected areas to those marine species that are highly mobile. In this context, it may be better to move towards a sliding scale of marine protection that is both area-based and activity-based.

The requirement for the setting up of a network of MPAs within Scottish waters is derived from the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the associated 1995 Jakarta Mandate. These emphasise site-based approaches to marine conservation. Under International Law enshrined within the OSPAR Convention and the EU Habitats and Wild Birds Directives, MPAs will be established in Scottish waters during the next decade. These will include representative networks of MPAs involving time/area closures of fisheries for the protection of nursery grounds, marine habitats for non-target species and spawning grounds.

We recommend that the Scottish Executive should ensure that forums established for regional fisheries management should be tasked with helping to implement environmental policy relevant to their region. This would include the establishment of marine protected areas. Full community involvement, however, would be essential in any consultation on the establishment of marine national parks.

Would a national coastline park contribute to the sustainable management of the Scottish coast? What would be the distinctive role of the park authority which would avoid the risk of confusion with the responsibilities of other agencies?

The role of the Park Authority should be to assume responsibility for the long-term stewardship of the area in its charge. To do this effectively it would need sufficient autonomy to function and would need to earn the respect of local authorities and, most importantly of local communities. The structure of the Park Authority should be consistent with what has gone before in Scotland, and lessons should be learnt from them and from marine national parks in other countries, such as New Zealand.

How should the development of a strategic framework for Scotland’s marine environment be taken forward in practice?

The development of the strategic framework should be taken forward by a focussed working group of interested parties to identify problems, define responsibilities and priorities, and decide what action needs to be taken over what time and what geographical scale. The group should be able to call on resources and information from wider UK initiatives and involve the Research Councils in the development of the strategy.

How often should the strategic framework for Scotland’s marine environment be reviewed?

Once set up, the strategic framework should be reviewed at 5-10 year intervals with the proviso that the Scottish Executive should be able to call for the review earlier if judged advisable.

Additional Information

In responding to this inquiry the Society would like to draw attention to the following Royal Society of Edinburgh responses which are of relevance to this subject: National Parks (Scotland) Bill (March 2000); Conservation of Salmon and Sea Trout (August 2000); Sixth Environmental Action Programme (May 2001); The Nature of Scotland (June 2001); The Future of the Common Fisheries Policy (June 2001); Strategy for Aquaculture (April 2002); Review of the Locational Guidelines for the Authorisation of Marine Fish Farms in Scottish Waters (April 2002); The Environmental Effects of Marine Fisheries (September 2002); Strategic Framework for Aquaculture (January 2003); A Strategy for the Sustainable Development of European Aquaculture (January 2003); Nature Conservation (Scotland) Bill (June 2003); Towards a strategy for Scotland's biodiversity (June 2003) and Inquiry into the Future of the Scottish Fishing Industry (March 2004).


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