Marine Scotland blog

News from Marine Scotland

March 31, 2015
by Ruth Allen

A changing world – a personal reflection

Professor Moffat on the Solheimajokull glacier

Professor Moffat on the Solheimajokull glacier

There is one constant; our environment is continuously changing. The big challenge for science is to be able to distinguish between natural fluctuations and those forced by anthropogenic activities.  This requires that we gather as much evidence as we can and across Marine Scotland Science we are gathering data and maintaining our long-term time series with the objective of reducing the uncertainty in projecting what the future might hold as a consequence of increasing sea surface temperatures and a change in the pH of our seas and oceans.

We need to take account of all the available evidence, be it from land or sea.

On a recent family visit to Iceland I took the opportunity to find out what is happening to the glaciers, going to one of the Icelandic government’s monitoring stations on the Solheimajokull glacier.  As well as been a phenomenal experience, I came away from the glacier quite concerned.  The monitoring shows a reduction in height of 9 m since May 2014, due primarily to an exceptionally warm November.  However, when my guide pointed out where the glacier had previously extended to and emphasised that not that long ago you could leave your car on the main road and walk directly onto the glacier, rather than having to drive over a very rough track and then walk two kilometres, it was clear that significant change is occurring.

The monitoring station was incredibly simple, a wire with markers every metre that was dropped into a narrow hole created using a steam drill, yet the evidence compelling.  This represents, of course, only one year of data.  Was 2014 unusual or not? What will happen in 2015? How applicable is this one monitoring station to the wider environmental scenario? Only time will tell, but this illustrates the importance of long-term time series, be they marine or terrestrial, as well as the need to join together all the information that we have – without such data our advice will be limited.  However, maintaining appropriate time series allows us to provide increasingly robust advice.

Professor Colin Moffat, Head of Marine Scotland Science

March 30, 2015
by Ruth Allen

Marine Scotland in joint Agency activity at Buckie harbours and ports

Officers from Marine Scotland Compliance and Police Scotland’s Border Policing Command and Aberdeenshire and Moray Division have been involved in a week of engagement activity at harbours and ports within then Buchan area.

The activity also saw support from the Border Force, HM Revenue and Customs, National Crime Agency and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Detective Inspector Stuart Clark of Border Policing Command said: “A key priority of Border Policing Command is protecting the UK border. We have a strong presence at Scotland’s major air and sea ports, and it is vital that we work closely with local officers policing the communities who live and work in the harbours and ports around the extensive Scottish coastline.

“During this week and along with partners in Border Force, HM Revenue and Customs, National Crime Agency, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and Marine Scotland we’ve engaged with the fishing and commercial maritime communities to encourage closer liaison. We’ve also used this opportunity to carry out briefings in relation to ‘Project Kracken’ to those who work in the maritime environment, with the aim of increasing vigilance and keeping people safe.”

Buchan Community Policing Team Inspector Simon Reid, of Aberdeenshire and Moray Division said: “The harbours and small ports within the Banff and Buchan area are of vital importance both commercially and recreationally to the local communities we serve. Community Policing Team officers already enjoy regular visits to and positive contact with those who work and make use of these ports.

“This engagement week has enabled our local officers to work alongside specialist officers from Border Policing Command to share skills and develop their experience in this area. I am particularly grateful for the support from the partner organisations that have also been present and worked alongside local officers. Initiatives such as Project Kracken are an important means by which to ensure that we remain resilient towards criminal or suspicious activity which may affect that.”

Project Kracken is a Joint Police, National Crime Agency and Border Force initiative to increase vigilance along the United Kingdom’s coastline and maritime environment. Anyone who sees or hears anything they would like to report can do so by contacting Police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 if you wish to remain anonymous.

More Information

March 27, 2015
by Lyndsay Cruickshank

MRV Alba na Mara: Survey 0415A Programme

Duration: 29 March – 17 April 2015

Fishing Gear: Scallop dredges


  •  To carry out a survey of scallop stocks on the West Coast;
  •  To assess shell damage on all scallops caught;
  •  To collect information on by-catch of other commercial fish and shellfish species;
  •  To identify and quantify numbers of starfish species in all dredge tows;
  •  To collect data on scallop ring measurements;
  •  To collect scallop meat weight biological data; and
  •  To collect flesh samples for toxin analysis back at the laboratory.


Scallop dredge hauls will be made at sites used on previous surveys and other known commercial grounds as shown Figure 1.  Hauls will be of 30 minutes duration.  From each haul all of the scallops will be measured to the half centimeter below and aged.  Numbers and size distribution of commercial fish and shellfish species will be recorded along with scallop shell damage and starfish numbers and species.  From selected sites, scallop ring measurements shall be taken along with scallop meat weight information.  In addition to this tissue samples will be collected from selected sites and frozen for toxin analysis back at the laboratory.

Figure 1: Scallop dredge haul sites

Figure 1: Scallop dredge haul sites

March 27, 2015
by Lyndsay Cruickshank

Marine & Fisheries News from other Organisations

A new paper featuring contributions from Plymouth Marine Laboratory Director of Science Professor Manuel Barange outlines why fish deserve more attention in food policies in our quest to meet the nutritional needs of a growing global population.

Fish already make a major contribution to the human food supply, providing more than 4.5 billion consumers with at least 15% of their average per capita intake of animal protein and essential fatty acids and micronutrients for improving human health.

Surprisingly, limited attention has been given so far to fish as a key element in food security strategies at a national level, even though fish are providing more protein per capita than pig, poultry and beef, and in terms of efficiency, fish aquaculture systems are more efficient converters of protein than most terrestrial livestock systems.

It is anticipated that this paper will become a key-reference in the coming years when it comes to discussing the contribution of fish to future food security and nutrition, feeding 9 billion people in 2050 and beyond.

Brought to you by Plymouth Marine Laboratory  on behalf of the UK Marine Science Coordination Committee.



March 26, 2015
by Lyndsay Cruickshank

Go 4 Set Regional Finals – An Assessor’s Experience

By John Dunn

On the 11th of February I acted as an assessor in the regional finals of the Go 4 Set competition at Elphinstone Hall, King’s College, Aberdeen University. Teams from all over Grampian had been working away for ten weeks on a series of projects, and our role as assessors was to choose a suitable winner to go on to the national finals.

Go 4 Set links teams of usually S2 pupils with companies or Universities to tackle a project using STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). This helps to raise pupil’s awareness and highlights the potential exciting future careers and opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Go 4 Set AssessorsMy fellow assessors were the CEO of a major recycling company, an Aberdeenshire councillor, the CEO of an oil field service company, an Aberdeen city education officer, and a professor from the University, and me!

We had teams of pupils from Fraserburgh (who actually won the event), Torry, Harlaw, Kemnay, St Machar, and Northfield.

Each team had prepared a report, and a display or model of their project. They made a presentation to the assessors and we had to question them on the various aspects of the project and their understanding of what they had done and the ideas and results they obtained. Assessing the projects and the presentations was challenging as the pupils demonstrated a high level of involvement and skill in what they had done, but eventually we arrived at a consensus and the pupils were awarded with their prizes and certificates of achievement.

All in all an excellent event which exposes pupils to STEM and hopefully encourages some of them to follow through these subjects in higher education.

March 25, 2015
by Lyndsay Cruickshank

MRV Scotia: Survey 0415A – Cruise Programme

Duration: 7 – 20 April 2015

  • Jackson BT 195 monkfish bottom trawl;
  • 400mm x 45.7m Rockhopper ground gear with tickler chain;
  • 2 x sets of Morgere Ovalfoil OF12 1700 Kg trawl doors; and
  • Net sensors; standard Scanmar sensors, bottom contact sensor and depth / temperature logger (DST).

To undertake a nationally co-ordinated demersal trawling survey of anglerfish on the Rockall Plateau and to the west of the Hebrides.


This is a nationally co-ordinated trawl survey to estimate the abundance and distribution of anglerfish.  The survey follows a set of protocols drawn up by an industry / science survey planning group made up of Marine Scotland scientists and fishing representatives.  These protocols share much in common with the sampling regimes described in Marine Scotland’s standing instructions for demersal trawl surveys.

The survey track and sampling locations (randomly selected) will be delivered to the Captain and Fishing Master prior to departure and giving as much notice as possible.  An approximate map of the sampling area giving the locations of all of the co-ordinated surveys is appended as Figure 1.  Trawling in Irish waters will take place as necessary.

Fishing operations will take place on a 24 hours basis, with scientific teams split into two teams working 12 hours on, 12 hours off (midnight – midday – midnight).

One haul of 60 minutes duration will be made at each sampling station; trawling operations will occur in waters up to a maximum of 1000 m.  The Scanmar system will be used to monitor trawl parameters such as wing spread, door spread and headline height.  A bottom contact sensor will be mounted on the footrope to record touch-down/lift-off at block up/knockout and if the ground gear leaves the seabed during the haul.

Anglerfish and megrim catches will be worked up according to the protocols for this survey. Other target species such as haddock, cod, saithe, blue ling, lemon sole and skates etc will be sampled as and when available.

Figure 1: Map of the Northern Shelf of the North East Atlantic

Figure 1:

 Map of the Northern Shelf of the North East Atlantic with the areas to be surveyed by the vessels (in italics) in the forthcoming anglerfish survey.  (The red lines indicate the approximate position of the 200 m depth contour).  Details of stations assigned to the Rockall and ‘West’ area will be conveyed to the vessel prior to sailing

March 23, 2015
by Ruth Allen

Award winning engagement on Marine Protected Areas

Marine Scotland’s Marine Environment Branch recently won the engagement award for the Scottish Public Service Awards for their work on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Over the last 4 years, 30 Scottish Marine Protected Areas or MPAs have been designated – 17 MPAs in Scottish territorial waters and 13 MPAs in offshore waters.  This has involved many things, including an extended 16 week consultation in 2013 and a further 6 weeks at the start of 2014: substantially longer than the 12 week statutory minimum to allow more time for stakeholders to fully consider the proposals. In total, 14,717 responses were received and analysed.

The work for all of this started in 2011-2012, with five national workshops covering a range of interests and work, such as data collection and requesting views from stakeholders on initial proposals. Then between April and July 2013, nine regional events were set up with mobile, static and dive fishing community interests around Scotland: Campbeltown, Troon, Oban, Stornoway, Ullapool, Kirkwall and Lerwick, Mallaig, and Kyle of Lochalsh.  A further two events were held for proposed MPAs in offshore waters.  The main aim of these events was to maximise fishing industry understanding of how the site options were developed and the evidence used and the team heard from a wide range of attendees that they would want to be involved in the management of MPAs, so work started early to get the local management of MPAs right, through community based management plans.

No sooner had fisheries pre-consultation tour finished than it was time to go back on the road for the official consultation tour in partnership with other colleagues developing the draft National Marine Plan and the offshore renewables Draft Sectoral Plans – known as the Planning Scotland’s Seas consultation – to the main coastal towns and communities around the country.

In addition to providing support at these events, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) also held a number of their own drop-in events, which allowed those further afield to have a chance to hear what was being planned for a network of MPAs, as well as to ask questions on the development of local MPAs.

In combination with the SNH and JNCC drop-in events, the team completed a total of 56 consultation events, which made it the most comprehensive marine planning consultation event programme to date in Scotland.

And as if all that wasn’t enough, the team did a further nine coastal workshops as part of a study that considered the potential effects of fisheries displacement that may occur as a consequence of future MPA management.

More Information

So what’s a Marine Protected Area (MPA)?

MPAs are designed to conserve a selection of marine species and habitats and offer invaluable long-term support for the services our seas provide to society, and with these new designations, approximately 20% of Scotland’s seas are now in protected areas.

These MPAs protect a range of habitats and species including flameshell and horse-mussel beds, the common skate and ocean quahog, a large mollusc which can live for centuries and new areas also include new areas for seabirds, in particular for black guillemot as well as designations to conserve habitats they and other seabirds depend on.

There are also Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are those which have been given greater protection under the The Habitat’s Directive because of a possible threat to the special habitats or species which they contain and to provide increased protection to a variety of animals, plants and habitats of importance to biodiversity both on a national and international scale.

March 20, 2015
by Lyndsay Cruickshank

ICES recommends increased consideration of ecosystem functioning in its review of the MSFD

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has reviewed three descriptors of Good Environmental Status (GES) of the European Union’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). The review suggests revisions to the criteria of the descriptors, highlighting the need for the MSFD to consider how humans impact the functioning of the ecosystem. It also strengthens understanding of how to assess ecosystem health across many different habitats, and provides a roadmap for further research in the area.

The European Commission (EC) asked ICES to review the descriptors of commercial fish and shellfish (descriptor 3), foodwebs (descriptor 4), and seafloor integrity (descriptor 6). The review process was iterative and engaged with participants from all over Europe through workshops, consultations, and peer review.

For descriptor 3, ICES recommends combining considerations about the impacts of fishing mortality on biomass of stocks and the size of individual fish. It also highlights that the selectivity of the fisheries (the way the fisheries take certain ages or size of fish) needs to be considered within the MSFD, and proposes ways for this to be built into the regulation.

Foodwebs are by their nature complex and variable, thus detecting human impacts can be difficult and predicting any response of foodwebs to management measures is complicated. ICES recommends the MSFD emphasize two important properties of foodwebs; their structure and function. By considering these properties the short- and long- term health of foodwebs can be ensured. ICES also proposes methods for assessing foodwebs, and recommends regional approaches to monitoring the structure and function of selected trophic guilds.

In regards to seafloor integrity, ICES recommends that more emphasis is given to the services provided by and the functioning of the seafloor. It also highlights that the MSFD should consider all damage to the seafloor, not just “physical damage” as is now stated in the regulation. It is likely that existing national monitoring programmes can be adapted to assess these properties. ICES suggests ways to work with is partner organizations, aiming at cross-regional comparability, and will further discuss this at a Council Working Group meeting next month.

The full review as well as more information about ICES work with the MSFD is available on the ICES website.

View the press release online.

For further information, please contact:

Terhi Minkkinen, Communications Officer
International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES)
Copenhagen, Denmark
Tel. +45 33 38 67 16

Note to editors:
The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) coordinates and promotes marine research in the North Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, and the Baltic Sea. ICES advises competent authorities (international commissions and governments) on marine policy and management issues related to the impacts of human activities on marine ecosystems and the management of the exploitation of living marine resources. ICES is working towards integrated ecosystem assessments and integrated advice, delivered at the regional seas level. For more information, visit