Marine (Scotland) Act

The Marine (Scotland) Act, which was introduced to Scottish Parliament on 29th April 2009 and gained Royal Assent on 10th March 2010, provides the legal mechanism to help ensure clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse marine and coastal environments, managed to meet the long term needs of both nature and people, by putting in place a new system for improved management and protection of the marine and coastal environment. 

The Marine (Scotland) Act introduces new powers relating to functions and activities in the Scottish marine area, including provisions concerning marine plans, licensing of marine activities, the protection of the area and its wildlife including seals, and regulation of sea fisheries.


The Marine (Scotland) Act, which applies to Scottish territorial waters only, comprises 5 key elements:


1 – A Strategic Marine Planning System – aimed at balancing the competing demands for use of the seas whilst protecting the marine environment. Scottish Ministers working with other UK administrations will prepare an overarching Marine Policy Statement to agree and clarify our marine objectives and priorities for the future and to steer sea users and decision-makers towards more efficient, sustainable use and protection of the marine environment. A National Marine Plan and subsequent Regional Marine Plans will follow, which implement the principles underpinning the Marine Policy Statement, utilising information on spatial use, conflicts, significant pressures from human activities and regionally-specific needs. Plans will consider social, economic and environmental aspects of development.

Marine planning in Scotland will be delivered by Marine Scotland, however the Marine (Scotland) Act enables Scottish Ministers to delegate regional planning to a lead organisation of a Scottish marine region such as a local authority, or, where appropriate, a sea user nominated group. These will be known as Marine Planning Partnerships. Plans will come into effect once approved and published by Scottish Ministers. Progress reports will be published at least every 5 years to measure progress towards the objectives for which the plans have been made. Plans can be amended where necessary to reflect changing circumstances but only Scottish Ministers can withdraw a plan.


2 – A Streamlined Marine Licensing System – to improve and speed up the decision-making process for developments in the marine environment. The license application procedure will be simplified for operators and will involve the issue of a single license for all marine activities. Consideration will be made to the protection of the marine environment, the protection of human health, and the need to prevent interference with legitimate uses of the sea when issuing a license. The Marine (Scotland) Act will supersede the two existing Acts which set the framework for the current marine licensing system in Scotland – one concerning safe navigation and one concerning marine infrastructural development. Marine Scotland is the licensing authority for most activities in the Scottish marine region out to 200nm.


3 – Improved Marine Nature Conservation Measures – enabling Scottish Ministers to designate three types of Marine Protected Area (MPA) across Scottish territorial waters: Nature Conservation MPAs – for the conservation of Scotland’s most important marine biodiversity and geodiversity features; Historic MPAs – for the protection of historically important marine sites such as wrecks or national monuments; and Research/Demonstration MPAs – to demonstrate or research new methods of managing Scotland’s marine environment. Scottish Ministers also have devolved responsibility under the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 for the designation of MPAs for the conservation of important marine biodiversity and geodiversity out to 200 nautical miles. JNCC are responsible for advising on the site selection process for MPAs in Scottish offshore waters. New MPA powers will put Scotland in a better position to contribute to the UK’s European and International marine conservation commitments, such as those laid out under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the OSPAR Convention and the Convention on Biological Diversity.


4 – Improved Measures for the Protection of Seals – for which Scotland is a stronghold.  A new comprehensive, streamlined and less complex licensing system will be introduced to allow appropriate management to be delivered where necessary and improve the balance between seal conservation and seal management concerning the fishing and aquaculture sectors. This will include monitoring of population impacts and improved welfare.


5 – Improved Enforcement Measures – through the introduction of a wide range of tools including advice, statutory notices and monetary penalties through to prosecution. The changes will ensure that all offences be addressed in a proportionate, flexible way and make operators responsible for any damage they cause. Marine Scotland will be responsible for delivering all enforcement measures with the former Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency representing the core compliance arm of Marine Scotland.


Marine Scotland is the marine management organisation for Scotland. It was established on 1 April 2009 as part of the Scottish Government, bringing together the functions and resources of Scottish Government's Marine Directorate, Fisheries Research Services ( FRS) and Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency ( SFPA). Marine Scotland will deliver integrated marine management functions relating to marine science and data, planning, policy development and delivery, compliance, monitoring and enforcement, whether fully or executively devolved to Scottish Ministers out to 200 nautical miles. A Marine Strategy Board, led by Marine Scotland and involving key partners with marine management interests, will be established to deliver a consistent, unified and focussed approach to marine and coastal management. Marine Scotland will work closely with the UK Marine Management Organisation established under the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 and relevant public bodies in Wales and Northern Ireland, particularly in relation to cross-border issues.


For more information visit the Scottish Government website