Improving protection given to Priority Marine Features outside the Marine Protected Area network

Closed 31 Aug 2018

Opened 5 Jul 2018

Feedback updated 24 Jul 2019

We asked

For views at the scoping stage of this project to improve protection given to Priority Marine Features outside the Marine Protected Area Network.

You said

There was strong support for taking the project forward, with a broad range of views on how to do it.

We did

Three scenarios have been taken forward into the Sustainability Appraisal that can meet the objectives of the project.

Results updated 24 Jul 2019

Approaches selected for the Sustainability Appraisal are:

  1. Prohibition of bottom contacting mobile fishing gears within specific zones around records of the 11 PMFs (This is the current preferred policy approach).
  2. Prohibition of bottom contacting mobile fishing gears within 0.5 nautical miles of land.
  3. Prohibition of bottom contacting mobile fishing gears within 0.5 nautical miles of land plus any specific zones from approach 1 that are outside the limit.



Published responses

View submitted responses where consent has been given to publish the response.


The project to improve protection given to PMFs outside the MPA network was initiated in May 2017.  This followed an incident in Loch Carron in April 2017 when a flame shell bed was damaged by scallop dredging activity, and resulted in the designation of the Loch Carron MPA.  The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change, and Land Reform also requested that necessary steps were taken to ensure that Priority Marine Features (PMFs) were being protected in accordance with the National Marine Plan. 

The National Marine Plan states that “Development and use of the marine environment must not result in significant impact on the national status of Priority Marine Features”. Furthermore the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 requires that decision makers should act in the way best calculated to further the achievement of sustainable development and use, including the protection and, where appropriate, enhancement of the health of the Scottish marine area.

Most industries have to go through a licensing process, with many required to undertake environmental impact assessments to enable the regulator to determine whether a project will have a significant impact. PMFs are considered in this process, and SNH provide advice to regulators based on published guidance. All regulators should continue to make decisions in accordance with the policies set out in the National Marine Plan.

There is no equivalent mechanism for fisheries. Therefore Marine Scotland commissioned SNH to identify locations where there is a need to consider additional management for bottom contacting mobile fishing gears to ensure there is no significant impact on the national status of PMFs within the 6 nautical mile (NM) limit. The rest of this document sets out the process for determining these areas.

The principal aim of the project is to ensure that the necessary fisheries management measures are in place to ensure protection of PMFs, and comply with the relevant policy in the National Marine Plan.  The current PMF list has 81 habitats and species and therefore a prioritisation exercise was undertaken. Through this process Marine Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) identified 11 habitats which are particularly sensitive to impact from bottom contacting mobile fishing gears. 

The 11 Priority Marine Features are:

  • Blue mussel beds
  • Cold water coral reefs
  • Fan mussel aggregations
  • Flame shell beds
  • Horse mussel beds
  • Maerl beds
  • Maerl or coarse shell gravel with burrowing sea cucumbers
  • Native oysters
  • Northern sea fan and sponge communities
  • Seagrass beds
  • Serpulid aggregations

The 11 habitats and species are a very important part of the marine ecosystem. They provide a range of natural goods and services from which we all benefit.  Further information on these processes are in Annex C.

Whilst the focus in this project is on managing fisheries to ensure the conservation of these important habitats and species, it is anticipated that the SNH advice documents form part of a wider context.  It is expected that the advice in the assessment of each PMF will have relevance to all industries and regulators. Separately, SNH is also developing more detailed guidance on those habitats and species which are regularly assessed in relation to development proposals.

Why your views matter

The purpose of the consultation is to seek views on the scope of the project to improve protection given to PMFs outside the MPA network.  It seeks views on the following:

  • The Scoping Report, as required under the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005, which sets the scope for the Strategic Environmental Assessment
  • The methodology to be used in the Socio-economic Assessment
  • The 11 Priority Marine Feature advice documents produced by Scottish Natural Heritage
  • Data and evidence sources to be used in the assessment
  • A management approach that will be assessed
  • Potential reasonable alternative management approaches.

This consultation is not asking whether measures should be implemented.  Another consultation will follow where measures will be proposed and it will be accompanied by a Sustainability Appraisal.

Download the consultation paper.


  • Business, Industry and Innovation
  • Economy
  • Environment and Climate Change
  • Marine and Fisheries