Dredgers destroy protected marine area

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​Campaigners Open Seas say Marine Protected Areas are not being policed

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6th February 2018 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Scottish environmental campaigners have uncovered evidence of devastating illegal scallop dredging in a protected area of sea.

Divers found a wasteland of broken shells and dead sealife in the Firth of Lorn – despite it being part of a Marine Protected Area (MPA).

The Open Seas group says this was caused by illegal dredging for the shellfish, and follows similar damage done to a rare reef at Loch Carron last year.

It says the vandalism shows MPAs are not being effectively policed.

The destruction was uncovered by commercial scallop divers - who are allowed to operate in MPAs - and was verified by Open Seas.

Steve Barlow, one of the divers, described the destruction.

He 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.

"It's 100% definitely damage caused by 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."

He believe dredging is "common" with boats operating without location-tracking equipment and at night.

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 has got to get on top of this situation."

The Scottish Government confirmed it is investigationg.

A spokesman said: "We have received recent reports of suspected illegal dredging in the area. Marine Scotland Compliance are actively investigating the activities of a number of suspect vessels.

"Compliance officers of Marine Scotland are keen to work with local groups to help them fully understand the regulations surrounding particular Marine Protected Areas and properly document any suspicious activity they might come across.

"Marine Scotland invests significant resource into regular boat patrols, as well as the presence of one of its Marine Protection Vessels in the area to ensure compliance. The risk of breaches of regulations are considered regularly and further resources tasked to the areas of highest perceived risk."