Divers uncover Firth of Lorn illegal scallop dredging

Illegal scallop dredging
                        Broken scallop image © Open Seas

A team of divers say they have uncovered evidence of illegal scallop dredging in a protected area on the west coast of Scotland.

Broken shells, dislodged boulders and fresh scallop meat were all filmed on the seabed in the Firth of Lorn.

Environmental group Open Seas said it showed that Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), where fishing is banned, are not effectively policed.

The discovery follows damage to a rare reef in Loch Carron last year. That incident led to an emergency closure of the waters.

Steve Barlow and Davy Stinson discovered the aftermath of dredging on a recent dive near Insh island and returned with camera equipment.

Mr Barlow said: “I could see lines on the seabed which is classic of the dredges. This is where they dredge spikes along the sea bed. Then I was seeing boulders and broken scallop shells and scallops with meat still in them. So it was very recently that it happened.”

By the second dive, the dredging lines had been churned up by currents but marine damage was still present.

Marine Protected Area

He added: “It’s 100% definitely damage caused by the sword from the scallop dredging. It’s a Marine Protected Area which had historically been very heavily dredged. When the protection came in, it started to recover and the environment was rebuilding itself.”

Dredgers catch scallops by dragging heavy equipment along the seabed. They are banned from operating in certain areas to protect marine features. But divers, who catch the scallops by hand, are allowed to operate.

An MPA to protect the common skate population was introduced in 2014 from Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura.

The divers believe dredging is “common” with boats operating without location-tracking equipment and possibly at night. Marine Scotland Compliance has been informed of the damage.

Nick Underdown, from Open Seas, said: “It’s a tragic situation. If this seabed was left alone it would recover, but instead we have got illegal dredging going on. This is not an isolated incident. It’s a crime. There are vessels out there which are illegally dredging inside Marine Protected Areas and they are selling those scallops into the supply chain. The Scottish government have got to get on top of this situation.”

Read the full article at BBC News.

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