Damaging inshore fishing practices could be taking place across Scotland, MSPs told
Divers discovered extensive damage to the flame shell reef in Loch Carron after the water was dredged twice by scallop fishermen in April
Scallops - by Jeremy Keith
The same practices which caused wide-spread damage to a reef in Loch Carron could be happening “regularly” in other fragile environments across Scotland, a Scottish Government official has told MSPs.
Divers discovered extensive damage to the flame shell reef in Loch Carron after the water was dredged twice by scallop fishermen in April.
The Scottish Government then responded by designating the loch as a Marine Protected Area, following an assessment from Scottish Natural Heritage.
But while SNH said the reef still had a viable chance of recovery in the long-term, Open Seas, a group campaigning for sustainable seafood, warned the action was “too little, too late”.
Appearing in front of the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, Michael McLeod, the head of marine conservation at the Scottish Government, said the Government believes the same vessel dredged the loch on both occasions and that it does do not yet know exactly how much of the bed has been damaged.
Asked whether the reef could have been damaged on other occasions, McLeod said: “We do not know whether there have been other incidents – they could have been happening regularly. We do not always get lucky by having recreational divers who, in effect, witness the incident. We do not know whether it is happening elsewhere.”
Responding to MSPs, McLeod said the Urgent Marine Conservation Order had been imposed because they “could not rule out a repeat incident”.
He said: “It would be bad for the environment, the Government and the fishing industry if such a thing were to happen again; the easiest way to ensure that it cannot happen again is to put in place management measures to control activity.”
But while the MCO can exist for a maximum two years, guidance suggests the reef could take over 100 years to recover from the incident.
McLeod said: “Between now and two years’ time, we will need to progress designation of Loch Carron as a full nature conservation MPA and put in place the necessary management measures for long-term recovery of the habitat.”
The Marine Conservation Society identified part of Loch Carron as a site in need of protection back in 2013, but the recommendation was not taken forward at the time. Five other sites were chosen as marine protected areas for flame shell beds instead.
Referring to the decision on Loch Carron, McLeod said: “I do not like to use the term “lost out” but it was number 6 on the list. You have to bear it in mind that the MPA network is not meant to be about protecting everything, everywhere; it is about making sure that we have a representative sample of key habitats and species represented in the network, almost like an insurance policy.”
Announcing the emergency measures, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “We take our duty to protect Scotland's rich marine environment extremely seriously and recognise the importance of safeguarding vulnerable habitats like flame shell beds.
“By introducing a Marine Protected Area and putting in place a ban on dredging we hope to ensure the recovery of the flame shell beds in Loch Carron.
“While we recognise there are concerns around scallop dredging in coastal waters, we must balance environmental concerns with the need for legitimate and sustainable fishing.”
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