Small Island project comes under attack from Shetland Fishermen’s Association

  1. Scotland’s seas are a public asset, as coastal community groups’ influence grows, some sectors of the fishing industry feel their long dominance of control within Government being reduced.
  2. We asked Prof. Charles Sheppard, OBE, Professor Emeritus at the School of Life Sciences, University of Warwick to read and scrutinise the Fishy Facts website and this was his conclusion. “Fishy facts website reminds me of an early crude climate denial website”
  3. While geographically the Lamlash No Take Zone and South Arran Marine Protected Area are small, nationally and internationally people and governments look to the Arran community project as a template to replicate.
  4. We are in both a climate and biodiversity crisis because lobbyists continue to persuade governments that their short-term economic interests come before society as a whole.

Open Letter to MSPs regarding Shetland Fishermen’s Association: ‘Fishy Falsehoods’

Dear Member for Scottish Parliament, 

The Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) recently published a document called: ‘Fishy Falsehoods: Lamlash Bay: The Evidence’. This document is misleading, runs counter to scientific opinion and is without merit. In response to this report & other false information being circulated by several leaders of the fishing industry please see our seven statements below.

  1. There is overwhelming evidence from around the world that well managed No Take Zones (NTZs) and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) generate increases in abundance, biomass, and diversity – particularly of target species.
  2. NTZs and MPAs are only part of a full package of measures that are needed to restore the damaged marine ecosystem.
  3. Multi layered spatial management such as that provided by the South Arran MPA (which the Lamlash Bay NTZ sits within) provides preferential access to low impact fishers, in line with government commitments.
  4. The Clyde marine ecosystem has been transformed by human activities, particularly past overfishing, and the use of bottom towed fishing gears. This has led to the collapse of all commercial finfish fisheries.
  5. The global scientific consensus now, and for several years, has been that further marine protection is needed if recovery of habitats, fish and shellfish stocks and marine biodiversity is to take place. The Convention on Biological Diversity has committed to protect 30% of Earth’s lands, oceans, coastal areas, and inland waters by 2030. The Lamlash Bay NTZ is tiny by comparison and has very strong support from the local community on Arran; it begs the question why the SFA have decided to weigh in on an area so far away from Shetland?
  6. MSP Kenneth Gibson reflects broader views on nature restoration by saying: “an open letter signed by over 6,000 scientists highlighted studies showing that restoring nature would improve food security, help fisheries, create jobs and save money…”
  7. The community on Arran took marine recovery into their own hands. However, the rest of the public are still waiting after 14 years since the Inshore Fisheries Groups in Scotland were set up, for the fishing industry to produce any responsible recovery management proposals. The climate and biodiversity crises demand that we cannot wait any longer.

The headline statements in the SFA report misrepresent the data and we have responded to each of these in the document attached. COAST nor any of the key researchers carrying out the science in Lamlash Bay were contacted by the authors of this report who remain unnamed.

We look forward to the opportunity to discuss the research of Lamlash Bay with you. Please contact us to organise a meeting or a visit to Arran.

Professor Sir Ian Boyd (Joint chair 1st Ministers Environment Council), May 2023, said: “People and communities are at the centre of the changes needed to address the significant challenge of shifting to sustainable living. Even if we need to establish clear national objectives, delivery of those objectives will only happen as a result of the collective action of everybody working in local communities. The Lamlash Bay restoration project is providing guidance and inspiration for others because it illustrates how community action can make a difference.”


This letter & attachment was written by the undersigned in collaboration with COAST,

Dr Bryce Stewart, Senior lecturer, Environment & Geography, University of York, Lead academic for research within Lamlash Bay 

Howard Wood, OBE, Co- Founder of Community of Arran Seabed trust, COAST Trustee

Prof. Charles Sheppard, OBE, Professor Emeritus at the School of Life Sciences, University of Warwick



In-depth scientific analysis of ‘Lamlash Bay: the Evidence’ by the Shetland Fishermen’s Association

We were very disappointed to read the recent report on Lamlash Bay by the Shetland Fishermen’s Association. The report claims to present the ‘facts’ but contains multiple errors, misleading and biased statements, and a considerable amount of the work they refer to has been superseded. None of the key researchers doing the science on Lamlash Bay were contacted. Why would this be the case if the authors of this report genuinely wanted to write an accurate story? The conservation benefits provided by the Lamlash Bay No Take Zone have been largely ignored in the report (increases in biodiversity, key habitats and marine life in general). Their headline statements are also all misleading, inaccurate or both. We have responded to each of them in turn below.


Claim: The evidence from the Lamlash Bay NTZ is extremely limited. In particular, there is no evidence of any benefits to fish stocks or fisheries.

Response: There has been a large body of research conducted on the Lamlash Bay NTZ, particularly led by the University of York since 2010. This includes extensive annual dive surveys from 2010 to 2013 and in 2019 & 2022, crustacean surveys almost every year from 2012 to 2023 and Baited Remote Underwater Videos (BRUVs) from 2011 to 2013. Dive surveys involved counting species, videoing the seabed, and measuring, aging, and sampling king scallops to calculate biomass. Crustacean surveys measure catch-rates, sizes, sex, damage and disease of lobsters, brown and velvet crabs, and tag lobsters. Several commercial species have benefited from protection – see next point.

Claim: Lobsters are the only commercial species which have increased in abundance in the Lamlash Bay NTZ (But larger lobsters suffered more damage and injuries)

Response: The only commercial species that are currently found in the area of NTZ that has been surveyed are lobsters, king and queen scallops and cod (juveniles). The density of legal sized individuals of all these species have increased over time in the NTZ (apart from queen scallops) and/or are at significantly higher densities than in nearby areas outside the South Arran MPA. Larger lobsters do tend to show more damage, but it is low level and not significantly different inside and outside the NTZ. Queen scallop density is very low / highly variable in general in the areas sampled around Arran – making it difficult to make any conclusions.

Claim: The abundances of crabs and juvenile lobsters fell inside the NTZ.

Response: In some years of the surveys there were indeed lower numbers of brown crabs and juvenile lobsters inside the NTZ than in control areas. However, this is an expected response to the higher numbers of large lobsters (it has been seen in several other similar studies) and indicates the ecosystem is returning to a more natural state. It is not reasonable to expect all species to increase with protection – food web interactions and competition are always going to cause different responses among different species.

Claim: Although the numbers of scallops increased inside the Lamlash Bay NTZ there was a greater increase outside it.

Response: This is a very misleading statement. The increase they appear to be referring to was in the South Arran MPA which was heavily exploited by scallop dredgers prior to protection in 2016 – resulting in very low scallop densities. This meant scallop numbers increased rapidly from a low level when they were protected from high levels of fishing. The South Arran MPA is approximately 100 times larger than the Lamlash Bay NTZ, also making comparisons difficult. It is also worth noting that legal sized scallop densities in both the Lamlash Bay NTZ and South Arran MPA were significantly higher than in a nearby area still open to dredging in both 2019 and 2022.

Claim: There is no evidence that the Lamlash Bay NTZ has had any effect on the abundance of fish inside or outside the NTZ

Response: This is another misleading statement. As mentioned above, recent dive surveys have demonstrated significantly higher numbers of juvenile cod in the NTZ. Several other factors explain why there is not more evidence for fish: 1. Fish numbers are heavily depleted throughout the Clyde, providing limited opportunity for replenishment through breeding or migration; 2. The NTZ is extremely small (2.67km2), too small to provide benefits for most adult sized commercial fish species; 3. Apart from the BRUV surveys from 2011-2013, the area has not been specifically surveyed for fish. Other BRUV surveys have been done in the area since then, but they were focused on studying habitat associations, not the effects of the NTZ.

Claim: There is very little evidence of spillover from the Lamlash Bay NTZ and no evidence that is has benefitted commercial fisheries in surrounding areas.

Response: Spillover is extremely difficult to measure / demonstrate, and no one (including the Scottish government) has adequately monitored surrounding fisheries. It is therefore impossible to fully assess this statement in either direction. However, the reproductive potential of both scallops and lobsters is much higher per unit area in the NTZ than surrounding areas open to more fishing. This makes it highly likely that the NTZ is exporting disproportionately higher numbers of larval / juvenile individuals of both species to the surrounding areas.

In addition to our response to the headline statements in the report we provide these further comments:

It is not just the NTZ that is protected. Spatial fisheries measures introduced to the South Arran MPA in 2016 prohibit scallop dredging in the whole of the MPA, limit bottom trawling to three outer areas, and prohibit static gear in four specific areas.

The results of any research surveys must be looked at within the context of this system of zoned spatial management as marine life and marine ecosystem changes will be influence by the different forms of spatial protection that have been introduced. These provide areas of: (i) no fishing (the NTZ), (ii) no mobile bottom dredging or trawling (MPA){, (iv) no static gear (MPA), and (iv) areas open to all forms of fishing (outside the NTZ and MPA).

Control areas have been systematically selected in locations with comparable habitat, depth, and exposure to sites in the NTZ. Control areas include locations: (a) within the MPA that, since 2016, have not been subject to mobile bottom fisheries, and (b) control sites outside the protected areas. Simply comparing “inside and outside the NTZ” fails to take account that control sites that are within the MPA are also protected.

The designation of the NTZ and introduction of fisheries management measures in the South Arran MPA followed action by the community on Arran to secure protection and recovery of their local sea area after seeing the collapse of white fish stocks around the island and in the Clyde and increasing damage to seabed habitats and marine life from unrestricted mobile bottom fisheries.

In 2020, surveys exploring attitudes of residents and visitors on Arran recorded that a majority of respondents to the survey believed that Arran’s marine protected areas had had a positive impact (NTZ 96.7%, MPA 88.4%) (Howarth-Forster, 2020)

As the report acknowledges, surveys have shown increased abundances of benthic (bottom-living) marine life in the NTZ (this is also observed within the MPA) with more complex habitats that provide nursery habitats for species such as juvenile cod and scallops. These ecological changes provide improved habitats for fish, shellfish and other marine life helping support an improved marine ecosystem.

Please contact us for further information. We are currently working on a peer reviewed scientific publication which will collate and an analyse all the research on the Lamlash Bay No Take Zone to date. We expect this to be available in 2024.


Key References:

Howarth-Forster, L. (2020). Marine social attitudes on Arran. MSc dissertation, University of York.

Notley, W. (2019). The recovery of Lamlash MPA No Take Zone and South Arran MPA: Has protection led to improved biodiversity and habitats? MSc dissertation, University of York.

ICES (2023). Scallop Assessment Working Group (WGScallop; Outputs from 2022 meeting). ICES Scientific Reports. Report. (see page 52).

Stewart, B.D., Howarth, L.M., Wood, H., Whiteside, K., Carney, W., Crimmins, É., O’Leary, B.C., Hawkins, J.P. and Roberts, C.M., 2020. Marine conservation begins at home: how a local community and protection of a small bay sent waves of change around the UK and beyond. Frontiers in Marine Science, 7, p.76.