Scottish Government introduces urgent Marine Conservation Order (MCO) off coast of Wester Ross
The Scottish Government has introduced an urgent Marine Conservation Order (MCO) off the coast of Wester Ross after receiving evidence of a scallop dredger towing in a protected area.
The site, a nursery habitat for young scallops as well as other juvenile fish and shellfish, was designated a Marine Protected Area (MPA) last year.
But a photograph has emerged showing a scallop dredger breaching voluntary arrangements for fishing in the area, leading the Scottish Government to prohibit all forms of dredging in the Wester Ross MPA as of midnight tonight.
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The Government said the seabed showed signs of damage consistent with a pass of scallop dredging gear.
Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “It's very disappointing that a scallop dredger has breached the voluntary fishery management measures in this MPA which is considered vital to the recovery of maerl beds.”
Lochhead added: “The evidence in this case has left me with no choice but to close the Wester Ross MPA to dredging now, instead of waiting until November as planned.
“Overall, these fisheries are worth around £2million per year, mostly to the local community, and much of this will remain unaffected.
“However, dredging permitted under the voluntary management measures for the Wester Ross MPA was estimated to produce less than £100,000 worth of scallops each year. And of course, the 20 or so vessels that occasionally dredge in these waters – none of which are based in the local area – are free to fish elsewhere.
“Clearly, taking action now to protect these precious nursery habitats will benefit Scotland’s marine environment, local communities and our fishing sector for generations to come.”
The order will not affect other fishing activity in the Wester Ross MPA, including hand diving for scallops.