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May 3, 2017

Loch Carron no more

Marine conservation tends not to make the headlines – unless you’re a diver or someone who seeks a sustainable living from the sea, it’s hard to become excited about what’s happening out of sight and under the surface. But this is becoming an increasingly contentious area of public policy. Some communities, most notably on Arran, are leading the way on this but shocking destruction of seabed habitats continues unabated. The most recent example of ‘demolition by dredger’ occurring in Loch Carron.


Nick Underdown – Open Seas

To read the full blog which includes video evidence of the destruction – click here

What Happened?

This month a scallop dredger working along the west coast of Scotland, to the east of Skye and intermittently transmitting from its Automatic Information Service (AIS) transponder, entered Loch Carron. The vessel was observed in the sea loch – by several witnesses – towing around the area known to hold fragile and productive flame shell beds (we have spoken to several of these people directly). The flame shell reefs were well-known to many, and local fishermen attest that they hadn’t been dredged for at least 10 years, perhaps 15 or 20.

A squad of dedicated divers arrived at the site just a few days later and documented significant and extensive damage to the reef. (Flame shells recover at a rate of about 12% a year and videos show broken flame shells scattered across the seafloor). The footage on Facebook was quickly shared 100+ times. News travels fast in Scotland the village.

A lot of people have asked us whether this is legal? Why isn’t there protection to stop dredgers towing over known reefs? Here’s our view.

We’re not interested in exposing the skipper or boat, but what happened in Loch Carron exemplifies a much broader problem about the state and management of our inshore waters and is a story that deserves telling.

What’s the Problem?

Causing damage like this is legal. Under existing fishing regulations, scallop dredgers can operate in Loch Carron for 6 months of the year.

Although scallop dredging is one of the most destructive forms of fishing in Europe, it is banned in just 4.4% of Scottish inshore waters (waters inside of 12 nautical miles). Outside this 4.4% there are some seasonal restrictions (Loch Carron was included in one), but other than that it’s a free-for-all. For decades now, people have questioned this situation, but the regulatory response has been inadequate and piecemeal. New rules designed to regulate scallop dredging are due to come into force in June. Yet these only make incremental steps toward changing the number of dredges a boat can use, and the size of scallops that can be landed. The measures also ignore the Scottish Government’s own expert advice to protect reefs from dredging.

The event in Loch Carron has caused nothing short of outrage and bewilderment. Divers are as devastated as the reef itself. Local fishermen are up in arms but few feel able to speak up publicly due to fear of recriminations from other fishermen on the water (gear conflict is acknowledged as a major problem and can stymie open debate about inshore management). Unfortunately this is not – contrary to some comments – an isolated incident. We have received frequent reports of other rich areas of seabed (essential fish habitats) being dredged or intensively trawled.

Like everyone else we think we should be basking in the reflected glory of our fishing heritage, proud of the healthy and tasty seafood sourced from our coastal seas. The trouble is that the current resource mismanagement of our inshore waters does not allow it.