The seas have influenced Scotland's economic past, and continue to shape its economic future. Fishing has been the life blood of many coastal communities in the past, and it and related industries continue to provide considerable revenue and jobs for Scotland; our many ports are hives of activity for both industry and tourism; offshore oil and gas exploitation has contributed to Scotland's wealth and employment; our coast, including firths and sea lochs, supports a wide range of recreational activities, and biodiversity, with thousands of species of flora and fauna and internationally important seabird colonies; and the prospects for development of renewable sources of energy through tidal and offshore wind and wave power are significant.

The sea plays a major role in the Scottish Government's plans for economic growth, but managing the resource is not without its conflicts, requiring sustaining the many uses to which the seas and coasts are put to be balanced with adequate measures for their protection.

It has become increasingly clear from various studies in recent years that a coherent strategy for management of Scotland's marine environment is needed, to better support competing demands, and find an effective balance of interests in a way that is integrated, without over-regulation.

A new legislative framework for the marine environment

The latest consultation document entitled: Sustainable Seas for all: a consultation on Scotland's first marine bill recommends a new legislative and management framework designed to support the economic development of the marine environment. Proposals include the establishment of durable conditions for investment, and a decrease in regulatory bureaucracy. It is also intended to secure more local involvement of affected communities.

A new organisation, tasked with responsibility for marine management, will be created. Marine Scotland will coordinate the implementation of Scotland's national marine strategy, alongside a new statutory system of marine planning, which will identify separate frameworks and priorities at national and local levels. Locally, Scottish Marine Regions will be created representing local interests and involving local authorities and existing organisations and structures, to determine and deliver local strategies and objectives.

Marine planning and management

Included in the proposals is a new statutory marine planning system intended to balance, coordinate and integrate the many uses of marine resources, and the various interests using them. Such a system in Scotland could apply to all devolved areas of activity in the marine environment, including:

  • tourism and recreation
  • marine renewables
  • obligations relating to biodiversity
  • ports and harbours
  • nature conservation
  • sea and inshore fisheries
  • pipelines and cables
  • aquaculture
  • extraction of sand and gravel and
  • marine licensing and environmental regimes

Marine Scotland's principal functions will be: 

  • to collect and co-ordinate marine data, and marine science strategy
  • to have prime responsibility for marine planning, integrated marine consents, marine management, compliance monitoring and nature conservation, and
  • to co-ordinate aquaculture, marine renewable consents and management of marine and coastal areas all with the objective of ensuring that the seas around Scotland are used sustainably, and that increased economic growth results. 

Reducing the burden on development 

Coastal and marine development often suffers from the time it takes to produce the necessary licences and consents. It is intended that these systems should be modernised and procedures streamlined, by combining the planning and licensing requirements, making the process faster and more attuned to the requirements of prospective developers; providing an improved understanding of appropriate uses of particular sites; and resulting in clearer decisions.

Long term planning for the future within a cohesive structure will mean that developers and investors can forward plan with confidence. Marine renewables are likely to be a priority, and the modernisation and streamlining of systems should significantly ameliorate the administrative burden on developers of renewable energy projects, and support effective exploitation of coastal and offshore wind power and wave power within a focused framework. Marine Scotland's role would include coordination of marine renewables consents.

Renewable energy sources

Scotland is well placed to generate energy from a plentiful supply of offshore renewable sources, and the Scottish Government has already provided significant financial support for development of technology in this area. The country's established expertise in offshore engineering for the oil and gas industries means that it has an existing skilled workforce able to apply those skills to other offshore applications with comparative ease, and take advantage of the emerging global market for energy from renewable sources.

Conservation and science 

Preservation and protection of Scotland's marine ecosystem, wildlife and habitats are key to sustaining a healthy and productive marine environment to support sustainable economic growth. Among the proposals in the consultation document are mechanisms for the safeguarding of marine sites, which will include the ability to designate areas as Marine Protected Areas, which can be used to protect species, habitats or ecosystems, to benefit fisheries management, or to protect historical sites such as areas where shipwrecks are located.

The commissioning, collection and processing of reliable and useful scientific data and research is an essential element in the provision of a sustainable marine environment. The consultation paper outlines Government's proposals for developing strategy relating to the production of scientific insight and data, which can assist in improving our understanding of natural coastal and marine processes.

The consultation process

Views are invited on the proposals contained in this consultation by 6 October 2008. The consultation document: Sustainable Seas for all: a consultation on Scotland's first marine bill can be viewed on the Scottish Government website.

England's Marine Bill proposals in brief

The Westminster Government is also consulting on its own Marine Bill with draft proposals which cover:

  • the creation of the Marine Management Organisation
  • new marine planning systems
  • licensing activities in the marine area
  • marine nature conservation
  • managing marine fisheries
  • reform of inland and migratory fisheries
  • modernising licensing and enforcement and
  • improved access to coastal land

The functions of the Marine Management Organisation will be very similar to those of Marine Scotland, providing a uniform approach to marine management, delivering better coordinated data and information, and cutting down administrative burdens. 

Clear objectives and priorities will be defined under a new marine planning system which will involve a UK-wide marine policy statement with a series of marine plans to follow.

Changes are also proposed to the system of marine licensing, again to deliver clearer and faster decisions, within an integrated structure. Support for marine nature conservation will be provided, and arrangements for the management of fisheries are to be improved to strengthen conservation, sustainability and profitability. Maintaining high quality data and other resources are recognised as crucial for informing decisions on policy and management, and the Marine Management Organisation will play a key role in the capture, storage and dissemination of data and information.

Powers for the management of salmon and freshwater fisheries are to be modernised and proposals are included for improving recreational access to the English coast, as well as unifying and simplifying arrangements for managing activities in estuaries and other coastal areas.

Further information on the proposals for the English Marine Bill can be found on the Defra website.