Open Seas: Seabed Reform


Open Seas give us their take on the current Priority Marine Features (PMFs) review in their latest blog post. 

The wrong activity, in the wrong place, can cause serious damage to the health of our seas. In Loch Carron, we saw this starkly when the world’s largest flame shell reef was damaged by a scallop dredger. (If you’re not familiar with what happened in Loch Carron, we suggest you read this before continuing here).

The Scottish Government set up a “National Marine Plan” in 2015 to manage these impacts and guide the way the sea is used by industries. Unfortunately, the events in Loch Carron made clear that Ministers are failing to comply with it, specifically by failing to ensure that use of the marine environment does not impact on the national status of “Priority Marine Features”.

As a result, the Government are now undertaking a “review” to understand what impacts of bottom-towed fishing are taking place and to assess the cost of meeting their own legal requirements… It looks like this is going to result in very little actual action and so we’re calling for a more effective and evidence-based approach to protect our underwater heritage, the future of our fisheries and the health of our seas – read on to find out more.

A brief history

Scotland’s seas are a central part of our culture. Since the first people arrived to settle here after the last ice age, our seas have provided the foundations of society – literally so in some places; archaeologists have found homes made from oyster shell middens, and more recently towns such as Plockton were planned and built to harvest fish.

The habitats carpeting the seabed, are the foundation of our seas. They give life to our fish, they filter our water, they store carbon and underpin the functioning of the interconnected web of life in the sea. Unfortunately they are in a historically bad condition.

In the 1800s fishing with trawl gear that ran along the seabed (otter and beam trawl) was seen as new technology. Many were concerned about its impact on the seafloor, fish and the ability of certain species to spawn on the seabed. Towards the end of the century there was so much concern that, in 1863, the House of Commons set up a Royal Commission to investigate the issue.

Henry Fenwick MP, who led calls for the Commission stated there was “almost a universal cry that our fisheries were falling off year by year”. The Commission was lobbied both ways, and there was a lot of debate, however, the result was to pass a series of pieces of law which culminated in the Herring Fishery (Scotland) Act 1889.

This banned trawling (the only dredging that existed at this time was done by rowers so it was not included) from 3 nautical miles around our coast (and Firths and Sounds) with a few exceptions, for example, trawling by sail was permitted. It was also followed by laws which were set up to properly enforce this limit. The Illegal Trawling (Scotland) Act, 1934 established potentially serious punishment if this rule was broken, including prison time.

Read the full article at Open Seas and respond to the review consultation.

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