Seaweed Harvesting

Kelp forest, St Kilda © Richard Shucksmith/SNH Flickr

Scotland holds a significant proportion of the UK’s kelp beds and this habitat is considered to be nationally important. The beds are known to provide vital nursery grounds for many species of juvenile fish. They are also highly valued for their carbon storage capacity, and protecting these and other repositories of ‘blue carbon’ is essential for healthy seas and for action against climate change.

In addition, kelp forests perform a critical role in coastal protection, buffering against coastal erosion and the impacts of storm damage through absorption of wave action. The targeted, wholesale removal of large, old-growth fronds from these kelp beds would substantially reduce their ability to provide these vital, free ecosystem services.

In 2018 there was united opposition to proposals to initiate mechanical kelp dredging on the west coast of Scotland, not only amongst coastal communities and environmentalists, but also from the fishing industry, including creelers and trawlers, who recognise the essential role played by kelp beds as a nursery for young fish.

Ocean heatwaves
Kelp © COAST

CCN actively opposed plans for wide-scale mechanical kelp harvesting on the west coast of Scotland in autumn 2018, and on the 21st November 2018 the Scottish parliament voted to back an amendment that will ensure the effective protection of kelp from destructive harvesting.

During the parliamentary scrutiny of the Scottish Crown Estate Act 2019, Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, announced a review to gather evidence to help ensure existing seaweed harvesting activity and future proposals are sustainable and Scotland’s marine environment is protected. Accordingly, a Seaweed Review Steering Group was established.

CCN’s request to join the steering group was unfortunately unsuccessful. The papers available to date are published on the Government’s Seaweed Review pages.

The Coastal Communities Network is an associate member of the Scottish Seaweed Industry Association (SSIA), which aims to support the sustainable development of local companies that manage and utilise seaweed for commercial use and help develop economic diversification in local communities.

Are you a community interested in playing a part in this growing industry? SIFT has been looking into the potential impacts of seaweed cultivation in Scotland, how those impacts are managed through the regulatory process, and how communities can participate in the process. Read the guide for community participation in seaweed farm applications.