Fishing row erupts: Fishermen clash over move to ban trawlers near Scottish coast

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The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) has come to blows with marine conservationists and creel fishermen campaigning to reinstate a three-mile fishing ban around the coastline. The Our Seas coalition, supported by The National Trust for Scotland is urging ministers to act to enable the recovery of depleted fish stocks and seabeds while preventing illegal scallop dredging.

Conservation charity Open Seas said trawlers limit the capabilities of creel fishermen, accusing the SFF of attempting to “undermine the future health and fair access to Scotland’s fisheries”.

But the SFF says there is no evidence to suggest such a ban would improve sustainability or improve earnings in the creel fleet.

The organisation has released a 16-page paper, titled The Three-Mile Limit: History and Facts, which claims the ban is “opposed by a majority of fishermen across all sectors”.

It argues the displacing of other fishers would come as a result, “but not on the basis of science that demonstrates this is necessary for the right protection of sensitive environments and features”.

Malcolm Morrison, SFF policy officer, said: “All fishing methods, mobile and static, will impact on the environment in some way, just as navigation, tourism, offshore energy generation or even just weather do.

This is a fact everyone needs to accept as a compromise in the wider concept of securing food.

“If areas or features are found to need extra protection, the SFF welcomes their inclusion in the existing management frameworks, based on objective evidence.”

A three-mile limit was in place for around 100 years until 1984.

The Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Association said: “since its removal, almost all the remaining demersal/finfish species, previously commercially exploited within inshore waters, have been reduced to commercial extinction”.

A spokesperson for Open Seas said, “big fishing interests within SFF talk repeatedly about a sea of opportunity but the reality is Scotland’s waters are a sea of inequality.”

The spokesperson added: “The SFF’s interests lie predominantly in the trawl fleet, the same boats that are positioning themselves to exploit a Brexit fishing bonanza, should negotiations swing in their favour.

“These bigger trawl boats have shown little interest in championing the fortunes of the inshore fleet, three-quarters of which are smaller, creel fishing boats and whose interests have been marginalised over recent decades.”

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Conservationists believe current measures – a network of protected areas covering 25 percent of Irish sea waters on the west coast and 12 percent of the North Sea are not enough.

Mark Ruskell MSP, Scottish Greens spokesperson for Climate, Energy, Environment, Food and Farming, said the report reveals a “shocking level of environmental destruction”.

The row follows the release of a government document which claims Scotland has failed to meet a ten-year-old target to prevent damage to precious marine wildlife.

The report, revealed by online investigative platform The Ferret, said the level of damage to the coastline environment has been described as “shocking”, and reveals “priority” seabed habitats located around the coast have declined in five large areas since 2011.

Seaweed beds, tubeworm reefs and seagrass have been destroyed by Scotland’s fishing industry and pollution, the government report claims.

Protected marine areas feature native oyster colonies, cold-water coral reefs, and flame shell beds.

In 2010, the Scottish Parliament agreed to the Marine Scotland Act to ensure the “protection and enhancement of the health of the Scottish marine area”.

A crucial element of this is the conservation of vital – or “priority” – habitats.

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