Calls to ban trawling within 3nm of coastline

Trawling, MPAs, Three Mile Limit

It is the crystal clear water that forms a beautiful backdrop to many a stunning tourist picture, but the inland waters around Scotland’s coast are also home to some of the country’s most controversial fishing grounds. 

Now, campaigners have written to the Scottish Government to demand that bottom-trawler fishing and dredging within three miles of the Scottish coast is made illegal – a policy not seen since 1984.

A total of 40 organisations have signed an open letter to the First Minister, demanding an end to bottom trawling and dredging within the so-called “Three Mile Limit”.

The use of boats pulling trawler nets has damaged seabeds and destroyed the diversity of the coastal seabed, they argue.

The groups blame the use of the “Newhaven” scallop dredger, common since the 1970s, for deeper and more damaging fishing practices than ever before.

The Three Mile Limit, which existed between 1889 and 1984, banned bottom trawling within three miles of the coast and provided a “coastal fringe of largely undisturbed marine life” that has been destroyed since its abolition, their letter says.

Signatories to the letter, which was made public on January 5, include the National Trust for Scotland, the Scottish Federation of Sea Anglers and the Angling Trust.

They were joined by several local fishing associations and recreational clubs.

Three mile limit

Writing in The Herald, Bally Philp, a representative of the North West Responsible Fishing Association, calls on the Scottish Government to “give future generations something they deserve, which is to inherit a recovering, if not a healthy marine ecosystem”.

He is a vocal proponent of reinstating the Three Mile Limit in Scotland.

Mr Philp writes that “by the early 1990s, all inshore fish landings had declined to practically zero, and the introduction of quotas in the ‘90s via the EU fisheries policy and substantial fleet decommissioning did little to resolve the issue”.

“Similarly, the cod recovery plan failed to yield results,” he says.

“There is now an evidence base, a proposed solution and if we can muster the political will, we have the opportunity to turn round the legacy of industrial fisheries.”

In 2015, a Government-commissioned report into “options for change” in Scottish fishing regulation concluded: “It would be difficult to argue that Scotland as a whole would be better off if inshore marine biodiversity and biomass were to be further compromised.

“On the basis of the benefits exceeding losses, the one-nautical-mile, but particularly the three-nautical-mile restriction, offers the potential to make everyone better off.” 

But campaigners argue this report has been ignored to protect fishermen trawling within three miles of the coast.

Campaigners have also demanded the Government investigates the fishing regulatory body, Marine Scotland, which they allege has failed to enforce trawling bans within some protected areas.

The Herald reported in November that fishing had been discovered in Gairloch, on the North West coast. The scallop dredging, inside a designated Marine Protected Area, was discovered by charity Open Seas rather than by the Government regulator.


Campaigners say fishermen have been forced to take enforcement into their own hands.

“Were it not for the vigilant efforts of conservation groups, fishermen and committed individuals, illegal fishing inside protected areas would go largely unnoticed and unchecked,” they wrote to Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Parliament.

Marine Scotland said it planned to begin monitoring boats operating in sensitive areas later this year.

Nick Underdown, campaign manager for the Open Seas environmental campaign group, said: “Everyone agrees inshore fisheries have been in decline for years, and that we are stuck catching mainly shellfish and very little whitefish inshore. 

“One big factor is that decades of dredging and trawling has seriously degraded the health of our seabed, trashing the essential habitats fish depend on. If we want to see more fish, we need to take better care of the seabed.”

He said the Scottish Government was “dragging their heels” on changes to fishing law.  

“The best time to stop scallop dredging in our coastal waters was 40 years ago, the second best time is now,” he said.

A Government spokeswoman said: “Dredging is subject to strict regulations and any illegal activity is completely unacceptable.

“Cases of suspected illegal dredging in the Firth of Lorne have been reported to Marine Scotland and compliance officers are investigating suspect vessels.

“We continue to actively engage local groups and stakeholders on issues around Marine Protected Areas. 

“Ministers keep the capacity of the Marine Scotland fleet under constant review.”

This article was originally published as Calls to ban trawling within three miles of coastline at The Herald on 14/01/19.

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