The cost of Scottish Marine Protected Areas, a year down the line

Phil Taylor is campaigns manager at Open Seas, he has worked on MPAs in Scotland since 2013 and internationally since 2009.


  • In early 2016 Scottish Government established fisheries restrictions in Scottish Marine Protected Areas to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems.
  • The ‘mobile’ fishing sector (i.e. the part of the fishing industry most likely to be affected by these MPA) raised many concerns about the negative impact the restrictions could have on coastal communities.
  • A year has now passed and this analysis has been undertaken to assess what impacts the restrictions have had on landings of scallops and Nephrops (the two species most targeted by inshore fisheries) at several key Scottish ports.
  • Assessment shows that landed weight and value have not been impacted at the majority of Scottish ports, with the exception of Kyle of Lochalsh and Ullapool which saw fewer and less regular scallop landings (though these changes may not be caused by the MPA measures).
  • Scallop landings increased significantly at Tarbert, and the value of scallop landings increased at West Loch Tarbert, Campbeltown, Kirkcudbright, Isle of Whitehorn, Mallaig and Stornoway. Value of Nephrops landings also increased at Mallaig, West Loch Tarbert, Tarbert and Kyle of Lochalsh.
  • In general, MPAs have not caused drastic differences in Nephrops and scallop landings at key Scottish ports.


In July 2014, 30 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were designated by the Scottish Government to protect and enhance the health of our seas. These were the culmination of many years work by Government and researchers and showed significant leadership from Scotland.

When designated they were little more than lines on maps and it took nearly a year and a half to decide how things like damaging forms of fishing (scallop dredging and prawn trawling) would be managed within them. In fact, even now, approaching three years after they were designated, only some of the inshore (within 12 nautical miles) are the subject of fisheries management — all offshore and a further seven of the inshore sites are still pending protection.

Management of the eleven sites which are protected (and the Special Areas of Conservation, SAC, which we will also consider here) was hard won. The dredgers and trawlers were particularly against the establishment of fisheries management because of concerns regarding potential lost income. Together with the lobbying groups they employ to represent them, they fought hard to minimise the restrictions put in place — some famously setting off a smoke flare outside Scottish Parliament on the day the measures were being debated.

Given the fisheries management measures banned dredging and trawling from some areas in order to protect the environment, their concern about opportunity cost was likely to be very legitimate. However, the debate became hugely political with some outlandish claims. Bertie Armstrong, CEO of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (the organisation which represents the mobile part of the fishing industry) said

“It could be, and I’m choosing my words carefully here, devastating. If you want to take a local community and result in a clearance, this is the right way to go about it. If you take down small businesses when there’s only a small number there, then you will devastate a community.”

Similar stories were told by trawler and dredger fleets around the Scottish West Coast (examples here, here & here). Though these were not representative of the coastal communities (example here, here, here) or the entire fishing industry (here), they did gain some political traction, ultimately resulting in management for the Small Isles MPA (protecting the waters around Rum and Canna) to be stalled — somewhere it remains. Despite the political sniping, all other proposals did make it through Scottish Parliamentary scrutiny and were adopted as legal measures in early 2016.

A year has now passed and it seems a relevant time to look into the impacts of these measures on the fishing fleets concerned. Specifically, whether the volume and value of landings made to key ports around Scotland decreased on the back of the MPA management measures.


Scottish inshore fisheries are now dominated by shellfish, few fin-fish are caught in these waters. The fleet is mostly made up of scallop dredgers, scallop divers, Nephrops (prawn) “bottom”-trawlers (otter and beam trawl gear which is towed over the seabed), Nephrops creelers (potters), and crab and lobster creelers. The MPA management measures established restrictions which would impact all of these fisheries. However, on account of the fact that divers and creelers have a lesser impact on the seabed and ecosystem, these were allowed to continue unrestricted in many of the MPAs. Dredgers are considered the most damaging of the fisheries and were restricted from the entirety of some MPAs. However, in most cases, trawling and dredging was allowed to continue within some zones inside MPAs. Here I will focus on the impact of the MPAs on scallop and Nephrops landings.

The UK Marine Management Organisation (MMO) provide data on the amount of each species landed to UK ports and by UK vessels each month with a two month lag. Using these data it is possible to calculate the monthly and annual scallop landings volume to any UK port between January 2014 and November 2016.

To understand what changes had occurred I calculated the monthly landed scallop and Nephrops volume at several key ports — unfortunately the data does not allow this most up-to-date data to be split by gear type so this is volume landed from all fishing methods. To assess whether the MPA management measures had a significant (negative or positive) impact on landings I undertook a simple statistical test (Wilcox u-test, assuming the data was non-parametric) comparing monthly landings weight totals from 2014 and 2015, with those made from February to November 2016, when the MPA management measures came into force.

I also calculated the annual total landed value and landed weight, to assess whether landings made since the implementation of MPA measures were less than before. I calculated a simple trend line (least squares linear model) through the data to calculate the rate of change through the three years of data.

To establish which ports should be studied I investigated where concerns had been raised ahead of MPA designation, Mallaig, Kirkcudbright and Stornoway were clear examples based on local press coverage. To understand which others may have been impacted I summarised and mapped the 2015 landings data to show the amount (weight) of dredge-caught scallops landed into to the Scottish ports alongside the location of the new MPA dredge restrictions, and the amount of trawl-caught Nephrops alongside trawl restrictions. The maps can be seen below and are interactive.

The distribution of king scallop landings in 2015, in relation to MPA and fisheries restrictions — zoom in, it’s interactive

Based on volume of dredge-caught scallops landed to the port in 2015 and the port’s proximity to the dredge restriction zones, I selected nine study ports in addition to the three mentioned above. The complete list was;

Kyle of Lochalsh, Tarbert, West Loch Tarbert, Oban, Tobermory, Kirkcudbright, Isle Of Whithorn, Mallaig, Kallin (Ceallan), Ullapool, Stornoway

The distribution of Nephrops landings in 2015, in relation to MPA and fisheries restrictions — zoom in, it’s interactive


Table 1 shows annual total scallop and Nephrops landings by weight and value for 2014 and 2015, alongside those made only between February and November in 2016. It also shows the results of the Wilcox u-test and whether monthly landed volumes were significantly different (p-value <0.1) following the implementation of the MPAs (highlighted in red).

Table.1. Correlation between monthly landed volumes before and after MPA fisheries restrictions, Annual landed total weight and value, including for only the time since 2016 MPA management has been in place.

For each port and species (other than where landings for one species were <50 tonnes per annum) I also present a graph of monthly landed volume and total annual landed value. The number included in the graph of monthly landings represents the results of the statistical test. In those ports where the difference between monthly landings before and after the MPA management measures are significant, the number is highlighted in red. The number included in the total annual value graphs is the rate of change predicted between years by a simple linear model (0 would suggest no annual change, 1 would suggest a year-on-year doubling, -0.5 would suggest a halving).

The most notable result is that the establishment of the MPA caused no significant change in monthly landings other than scallop landings at Kyle of Lochalsh, where they decreased, and Tarbert, where they increased following the establishment of the restrictions.

Ports’ Results

In all graphs, light grey represents 2014 data, dark grey 2015 data, black represents landings that were made in 2016 prior to the MPA restrictions, red represents landings made between February and November 2016.

Kyle is within the Lochs Duich, Alsh and Long MPAs, and is also adjacent to several other voluntary and seasonal closures. Monthly landed scallop volumes in 2016 were significantly less than in both previous years. Overall, around £174k of scallops were landed to the port until November 2016, this is around £300k less than in 2015 (around £476k). Although this might be the result of the MPA management measures restricting the amount of scallops caught in the local area, it is important to note that the 2015 data show that only around 47% of the scallops landed to this port are dredge-caught. Dive fisheries are still permitted in the MPA so it would appear that this change is actually the result of some other changes. Moreover, a dredge and trawl closure was established around the edge of the lochs in 2014, which might mean that 2014 would be a better baseline year anyway.

Nephrops landings to Kyle were not significantly impacted by the establishment of the MPA bottom-trawl restrictions. The profile of monthly landings appears to mirror previous years’ landings well and the overall value of Nephrops landed between January and November 2016 (£1,171k) already exceeds the total value of 2015 landings (£1,144k), in fact the value was nearly exceeded by those caught since the MPA measures came into force (£1,103k).

Tarbert also saw significant changes in monthly scallop landings (p-value = 0.09). However, in contrast with the predicted decline, the data actually shows that monthly landings made to the port since the MPA was designated increased significantly during 2015 and 2014. This is also reflected in the overall annual value of landings. Landings made since the implementation of MPA management measures (£295k) were actually greater than made during the entirety of 2014 (£287k) and roughly the same as 2015 (£296k) — when landings made in January were also considered, the 2016 value is substantially higher at £366k. This is noteworthy and is also yet to include landings made in December. Overall the trend calculated suggests a 13% increase in landed value to the port.

Annual value of landings does not appear to be growing at such a rate for Nephrops. However, no significant difference occurred in monthly landings before and after the establishment of MPA management and the annual trend shows only a 3% decline, which is mostly explained by changes between 2014 and 2015 (i.e. before MPA management) and does not yet include December data. It is likely that the final year totals will be comparable.

West Loch Tarbert also saw an increase in scallop landings in 2016, growing more rapidly than at Tarbert itself with around a 40% increase year on year. Because this trend exists in the landings between 2014 and 2015 it is likely that this is not related directly to the MPA. However, it is worth noting that the landings have continued to increase and not been impeded by the MPA.

Nephrops landings value also grew over the three years at the port. The rate of increase is about 20% year on year and this has neither accelerated or slowed following the establishment of the MPA fisheries restrictions.

Elsewhere in the Clyde, monthly scallop landings into Campbeltown were nearly identical (p-value = 0.97) before and after the implementation of the MPA management measures. Despite this close correlation, the amount landed in November 2016 (>70 tonnes) was more than in any month during the past three years. Value of landings in 2016 was also up compared with 2015 (£508k, £427k of which was landed after the fisheries restrictions were put in place) and comparable with 2014 values (£509k). Total annual volume was also up by 50.5 tonnes compared with 2015.

Campbeltown is also the fifth most important port in Scotland for Nephrops. Although the monthly landed volumes are not so similar between years as they were for scallops, they were not significantly different between years. Total value has remained high and rallied in 2016 following the implementation of the MPA to return to more than £3m, £2.86m of which was landed following the MPA restrictions.

Oban is the third most important port in Scotland for scallops by weight. Two dredge closures are situated adjacent to the port — Loch Sunart to Sound of Jura MPA, which includes derogation areas where dredging is allowed to continue, and Firth of Lorne SAC, which is wholly closed to dredging. The data show that monthly landed volume in 2016 matched those from previous years very well despite the establishment MPA restrictions. Overall the value was down marginally (3% trended decline) but, again, these data do not yet include values for December.

Nephrops landings values have varied very little between years and remain very high in 2016, with over £2m landed in each year. Again there was no significant difference between monthly landed volume; in fact the trend of monthly landed volume matches both previous years. The annual trend for landings suggests a 0.1% increase, which is negligible.

Tobermory also sits adjacent to the Loch Sunart to Sound of Jura MPA but is within one of the derogations where dredging is allowed to continue. It is also the ninth most important port for scallops in Scotland. Establishment of MPA restrictions had no significant impact on monthly landed volume, which remained very well correlated with previous years (p-value = 0.97). Annual landed value throughout the three years show a marginal decrease (-8%) but is due to decline between 2014 and 2015. The total landed value in 2016 (£642k; £601k made since the MPA came into force) was actually an increase on 2015 (£630k).

Nephrops landings to Tobermory are small and were entirely creel-caught in 2015 so are not investigated here because the creel fishery was not restricted by the adjacent MPA.

Kirkcudbright is the fourth most important port for Scottish scallops and is also home to the majority of the Scottish nomadic dredger fleet. It is not adjacent to any MPAs, but the fleet argued that the restrictions proposed in the Luce Bay SAC would have an impact on their ability to continue fishing through the winter. This led to some seasonal concessions which allowed this fishing to continue.

2016’s monthly landings were not significantly different than those made in previous years. However, the volume of scallop landings in February and March into the port exceeded those same months in 2015 and 2016. April and May values were unusually low and landings made in November 2016 (when the derogations in Luce Bay would allow boats to fish inside the SAC) were at a record level.

The overall landed scallop value has increased markedly in 2016 (£3,924k total; £3,749k whilst the MPAs were in force) when compared with 2015 (£3,069k). Interestingly this is in direct contrast with the annual total landed volume, which was actually less in 2016 (3,109 tonnes) when compared with 2015 (3,811 tonnes), suggesting the value per tonne of scallops went up for the port. No Nephrops landings were recorded in Kirkcudbright.

Isle of Whithorn is on the same Dumfries and Galloway coast and, although overall landings here are substantially smaller than in Kirkcudbright, local fishing companies also raised concerns about the Luce Bay closures. Again we see no significant difference in the monthly landings once the MPA management measures were established. Notably the November landings marked a record landing for the past three years at the port. The data also show that the value of landings into the port increased in 2016 (£410k) to more than in either of the two previous years — we also see a value-per-tonne increase here, as with Kirkcudbright.

There are few landings of Nephrops into Isle of Whithorn.

Mallaig is the second most important port in Scotland for Nephrops and the eighth most important port for scallops. Much of the concern raised regarding the MPAs at the port was in relation to the Small Isles MPA, which is still awaiting protection as mentioned above. However, some concern was also raised about other sites being protected last year, including the Wester Ross MPA, suggesting the boats using Mallaig port have a significant range.

These data show that monthly scallop landings to the port have not been impacted significantly by the establishment of the MPA. They also show that total value of landings increased by £235k, to £886k as of November in just one year.

Monthly Nephrops landings to the port were more than in either 2014 or 2015, verging on statistical significance. In particular the volume of landings made in Spring and Summer were consistently more than in either 2014 or 2015. Overall value of landings was up on both 2014 and 2015, with a total of £7.9m of Nephrops landed in 2016 up until November (£7.7m of which was landed whilst the new MPA management was in force).

Ahead of the parliamentary scrutiny, Kallin Shellfish (based in North Uist) specifically raised concerns (including with Members of the Scottish Parliament) that the “viability of their onshore processing plants and over 70 personnel were at risk [from the designations]” (here). Again, given the new MPA measures are on the other side of the Minch, this suggests that the Kallin vessels have a large range.

The data show no significant change in landed scallop volume since the establishment of the MPA measures and it is noticeable that 2016 landings in August, September and November were more than in the same months the year before. Overall value of landings has also gone up, and was greater in 2016 (£586k) than in either previous years.

None of the Nephrops landed to the port in 2015 were from trawl fisheries so it is not investigated here.

Monthly scallop landings made into Ullapool were far less regular after the establishment of the management within the Wester Ross MPA. Some months (March, April, June, July, September, November) received no scallop landings at all — though this is not unusual for September. The overall value of landings has decreased in line with this irregularity and was lower in 2016 (£81.4k) than in either 2015 and 2014 (£144k and £276k respectively). The declining trend exists throughout the three years’ data, suggesting MPA management measures were not the sole driver of the change — the rate of decline actually slowed slightly between 2015 and 2016. That said, smaller voluntary closures (and once breached, mandatory ones) were put in place in 2015.

Nephrops landings are more important for Ullapool, it is the tenth most important port in Scotland for them and 86% of the 2015 landings were from trawl boats. The monthly volume of Nephrops landed to the port has not changed significantly since the implementation of the MPA management measures and was more than previous years in March, May, July, August, October and November last year. Total landed value was up on 2015 (£2.5m in 2016 compared with £2.06m in 2015) and by weight, was more than either two previous years (492 tonnes, 487 of which was landed after the MPA measures were in force).

Several of the boats which previously dredged in Wester Ross MPA and landed into Ullapool area are nomadic and are registered to Stornoway. Despite the new restrictions, we see that scallop landings into this port are still very large and persistent throughout the year, with no significant or noticeable difference in monthly landings between years. Total landed value has also been rising between years by around 30% annually. 2016 represented the highest value for scallop landings in the past three years (£383k) and the most volume (161.8 tonnes).

Although there was no significant difference between monthly landed volume, June and July are of particular note given that 2016 saw more than double the amount of scallops being landed during those months when compared with either 2014 or 2015.

Monthly Nephrops landings in 2016 followed a very similar profile to both previous years, with a maximum of more than 100 tonnes landed in July. The total annual value of the landings was over £2.6m, up around £125k from 2015. Total annual landed weight was also up by around 34 tonnes. The trend analysis suggests that the landings are roughly stable between years.


On the basis of data presented here, we conclude that the MPA management measures have not had a significant negative impact on the landed volume or value of scallops and Nephrops at the majority of key Scottish ports, with the two potential exceptions of Kyle of Lochalsh and Ullapool.

Proportion of scallop weight landed to Kyle by gear, 2015 (MMO, 2016) — it is unclear what the landings categorised as from “pots and traps” relate to.

At Kyle, monthly landed scallop volume was significantly less in 2016 than in previous years and the annual total was also less than half the 2015 value (landed weight decreased by 70%). However, given that only 47% of scallop landings made to Kyle in 2015 were categorised as either dredge or trawl caught, it would be impossible for this decline to be entirely explained by a change in the dredge fishery, even if no dredged scallops were landed into Kyle at all in 2016. The change must therefore be related to a more systematic change in landing practices, potentially not related to the MPA at all.

At Ullapool scallop landings have clearly become less regular and have summed to a smaller annual total for the port in 2016 than in previous years. It is unclear how much of this change has been a direct result of the MPA management measures (established in 2016), given that landings were already diminishing between 2014 and 2015. However, it has been suggested that dredgers previously landing into Ullapool did not use it as homeport. It would therefore seem reasonable that these boats are now avoiding the Wester Ross MPA and Ullapool harbour, given that they are not allowed to dredge in the area. This is noteworthy and may be evidence of fisheries changing behaviour following the establishment of the MPA management measures. To assess implications for income to the port, we should also note that the changes observed in scallop landings were not mirrored by Nephrops landings — which are more important for the port. Even at its maximum total annual scallop landings were £276k, around just a tenth of the Nephrops landings in the same year. Given the Nephrops landings have actually increased in volume and (marginally) in value, it is reasonable to assume the port and associated community have not been drastically impacted by the changes in scallop landings.

Several ports remained remarkably unchanged following the implementation of MPAs. Specifically monthly scallop landings into Tobermory in 2016 were extremely well matched (p-value = 0.97) with those made in 2014 and 2015. Although the value of these landings decreased from 2014 to 2015, it seems to have rallied a little in 2016. Surprisingly, scallop landings to Campbeltown were also extremely well matched (p-value = 0.97). Landed volume and value to the port slumped in 2015, but in 2016 has recovered with £508k worth of scallops landed in the year to November 2016. Such close matching shows very clearly that MPA measures have had no impact on landings to these ports.

Annual landings totals of Nephrops to Tarbert, Oban and Stornoway were also very stable. In fact, Oban has remained extremely important for both species with over £1.5m worth of scallop and £2.27m worth of Nephrops landings made in 2016, (£1.3m and £2.21m made after the implementation of the restrictions, respectively). Despite earlier concerns, we also see that scallop landings to Kallin in North Uist has increased between 2015 and 2016, returning to around its 2014 total landed value of £580k. Although their concern was not raised with regards to Nephrops, the data do show a decline in landings of that species to the port — though it should be noted that the decline has been evident over the entire three years.

Perhaps most surprising is that some ports also saw increased landings, in some cases increases in both landed volume and value. At Tarbert monthly scallop landings were significantly more (p-value = 0.9) once the MPA management was put in place than they were in 2015 and 2014. Value of these landings increased from around £290k to £366k, with £295k of that coming from February to November. It is unclear what has driven this change. Certainly we would not expect the reproductive potential of scallop stocks in the Clyde to have recovered in such a short space of time. However, given no increase was seen between 2014 and 2015, it does seem that this is the result of some change experienced in 2016 and this does align well with the closure in the South Arran MPA. A similar increase was seen at West Loch Tarbert, where scallop landings weight was up some 40 tonnes on 2015, resulting in around £176k more landed value throughout the year, although this increase has been happening (for both species) throughout the three years.

Kirkcudbright landed value was also markedly up in 2016 when compared with the two previous years. Interestingly this is due to an increase in the value per tonne of their product, and their landed volume has actually decreased (though not significantly). Mallaig Nephrops also increased by nearly £1.5m in 2016, with an increase in landed weight of more than 400 tonnes, even when only considering those landed since the MPA restrictions were put in place.

These results show that concerns about severe impacts across Scottish ports up and down the West Coast following the implementation of MPA management measures have not come to pass. Kyle of Lochalsh and Ullapool have experienced some changes, and scallop landings in particular have fallen markedly. However, across the majority of ports studied, the establishment of fisheries restrictions has not had a significant impact on the landed volume or value of either scallops or Nephrops. In some places (Campbeltown and Tobermory) scallop landings are nearly identical to all previous years; in others (Tarbert) scallop landings have actually increased significantly since the implementation of the MPA measures. Evidence, such as that presented here, should be used in future discussions about the impact of MPAs on fisheries and fishing ports to help inform future decisions about management of Scottish Inshore waters.

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