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Chamber and committees

Question reference: S6W-17547

  • Asked by: Ariane Burgess, MSP for Highlands and Islands, Scottish Green Party
  • Date lodged: 27 April 2023
  • Current status: Answered by Mairi McAllan on 15 May 2023


To ask the Scottish Government what percentage of Scotland’s sea beds have been degraded by human activities, including fishing, and what economic impact it anticipates Highly Protected Marine Areas could have on coastal communities, including fishing businesses.


Human activities have had a considerable impact in Scotland’s seas. Of the 21 marine regions reported in the Scottish Marine Assessment 2020 , where physical disturbance was assessed, 18 were predicted to have more than 15% of their area classified as highly disturbed and are considered to be in “poor condition”.

Our proposals to introduce Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) are intended to contribute to addressing this situation and improving the state of our sea bed across Scotland’s seas. However, enhanced marine protection is about more than tackling biodiversity loss and climate change – it is also about delivering societal benefits which must include benefits for coastal and island communities.

We are proposing that HPMAs protect ecosystems and the services they provide, including essential fish and shellfish habitats, which will deliver societal benefits, including for island and coastal communities. By being properly designed and located we believe these areas would provide long term and sustainable benefits for island and coastal communities.

Scientific studies indicate that fish stocks can increase in HPMAs, providing spill over benefits for fishers and making sure there are sustainable levels of fish and other marine products to be derived and benefitted from our seas. For example, a study by Lenihan et al in California has shown spill over benefits with increased stocks of spiny lobster.

We have conducted a range of initial impact assessments, including an initial Sustainability Appraisal (composed of a Strategic Environmental Report and a Socio-Economic Impact Assessment); a partial Island Communities Impact Assessment (ICIA) Screening Report; and a partial Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment (BRIA). We sought views on these as part of our initial consultation, which closed on 17 April. However, as was noted in the consultation, any specific potential impacts can only be considered in full once specific site proposals have been developed, following close stakeholder and community engagement.