Film of seabed ‘pulverised’ by scallop dredging

Dredged seabed illegal scallop dredging
            Image © Howard Wood, COAST


Underwater film footage revealing the damage allegedly caused by illegal scallop dredging has been published by The Ferret in the wake of claims that protected wildlife areas are being “pulverised” by fishing boats “flouting the law”.

The video was produced by campaign group, Open Seas, which has been investigating recent allegations of illegal scallop dredging at Loch Gairloch in Wester Ross.

The protected area is closed to certain types of fishing, including scallop dredging. The government’s Marine Scotland is investigating claims of illegal acts by fishing boats.

OpenSeas says there is a “systematic problem” with illegal dredging that the Scottish Government needs to urgently address. Vessel monitoring needs to be improved, it argues.

The group claims that larger boats may be switching off tracking systems to dredge illegally, while small boats without mandatory tracking could also be breaking the law.

Illegal dredging in protected areas has previously been blamed for damaging seabed habitats in the Firth of Lorn and Loch Carron.

In the Firth of Lorn in Argyll, divers filmed broken shells, dislodged boulders and fresh scallop meat in February 2018. Last year damage to a rare reef in Loch Carron in the west Highlands was discovered, leading to an emergency closure of the waters.

 A diver who supports Open Seas, George Brown, shot footage in Gairloch in November following multiple reports the previous month of suspected illegal scallop dredging. These inshore waters at Gairloch are a known herring spawning ground and one of the few areas where scallop dredging is banned.

Open Seas claims its footage shows “devastation below the water”, alleging that scallop dredges operating illegally “scraped across the seabed, flattening the habitat”. The group says that illegal dredging is damaging the future of the inshore fishing industry by “destroying nursery grounds for fish and shellfish”.

Vessel Monitoring

OpenSeas also says that vessel monitoring needs to be improved and that the Scottish Government must meet its legal obligations.

In 2009, Europe-wide control regulations were established so that all fishing vessels greater than 12 metres in length must be equipped with tracking devices to provide location, course and speed. These devices are collectively referred to as “vessel monitoring systems” or VMS.

Open Seas is calling for all scallop dredgers to be fitted with tamper-proof and high definition vessel tracking devices, and the fishing industry has recently backed better tracking.

“Calls for enhanced vessel tracking are welcome – although the response from Scottish Ministers has been deafening silence,” said Phil Taylor, the group’s head of policy and operations.

“However, the evidence suggests that the vessels seen with dredges deployed in Gairloch were larger than 12m and so already required by law to be fitted with tracking devices.”

“That they have caused such extensive and lasting damage to one of the very few places left in our sea where these boats are not allowed – and where herring are known to spawn – exposes the weakness of the existing regulations and calls into question the sense of scallop dredging within these coastal and sensitive waters.”

He continued: “Illegal dredging in Scotland is not just a problem associated with a few, small rogue boats. It is a systemic problem which Marine Scotland withits current enforcement capabilities cannot address.”

Read the full article Published: film of seabed ‘pulverised’ by scallop dredging at The Ferret (published 04/12/18).

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