NERC science boosts UK economic growth by reducing pollution

19 December 2016

NERC research has made a significant contribution to UK shellfish production and the health of our seas.

Scottish trawler

Scottish trawler

Decades of research by NERC-funded scientists led to a fundamental contribution to the UK successfully banning harmful marine pollutants, according to a new report.

The NERC-commissioned analysis by Deloitte shows that ground-breaking studies of the negative effects of anti-fouling chemicals, and crucial UK-specific insights, opened the way to evidence-based regulation, which accelerated the recovery of damaged ecosystems.

The analysis estimates that these bans generated environmental, social and economic benefits worth £908 million up to 2014; between £173 million and £236 million of those benefits are specifically attributable to NERC science.

NERC Chief Executive Professor Duncan Wingham said:

"This report clearly demonstrates the positive impact NERC science has had on the UK shellfish industry. The research helped boost the development of innovative solutions that have led to effective, environmentally friendly anti-foulants, leading to significant environmental and economic benefits to the UK."

Of the £908 million, £331 million benefited the UK shellfish industry and its supply chain. Based on NERC-funded science by the Marine Biological Association and the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, among others, tributyltin (TBT) was banned for small vessels in 1987. This was extended to all vessels in 2008. Before 1987, the use of TBT and similar anti-fouling chemicals caused severe harm to shellfish and other marine life.

Anti-fouling agents such as TBT were used by the shipping and boating industry to prevent organisms such as barnacles and algae attaching to the vessel hulls. Anti-fouling agents result in improved fuel efficiency and reduced maintenance costs.

However, the banned chemicals seriously compromised the health, and therefore the profitability, of UK shellfisheries. Regulating their use triggered a surge in shellfish production, 60% of which takes place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Between 1987 and 2014, the total compliance costs to the industry were £141 million. Although the bans initially led to extra costs for ship operators, they also stimulated innovation that led to more effective, longer-lasting anti-foulants.

In 2015, UK consumers spent £6·3 billion on seafood. NERC funding on TBT-related research has totalled an estimated £3·9 million since 1981.

Further information can be found in the Impacts of NERC science – Cleaner Seas report.


Further information

Karen Christian
NERC media office
01793 411568
07827 872454