AN AWARD-WINNING conservation project has welcomed Scottish Government proposals to ban a destructive fishing method in Lamlash Bay – but say more could be done to protect the marine life there.

Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, announced last week that scallop dredging would be banned in the South Arran Marine Protected Area and other west coast MPAs.

Scallops are Scotland’s second most valuable shellfish, with 16,000 tonnes a year harvested, mostly for export.

But dredging has attracted growing criticism because of the damage it can inflict on fish nurseries, coral reefs and marine wildlife.

The Community of Arran Seabed trust (COAST) has campaigned hard to end the damaging method in Arran’s MPA – designated in 2014.

However, permit bottom trawling will still be allowed within significant areas of the MPA and COAST says it will continue to press for an end to the practice.

The Scottish Government has opened a public consultation on the conservation measures which will last until September.  If agreed to, they will be fully implemented in spring 2016.

COAST’s Executive Director Andrew Binnie said: “Mr Lochhead and senior staff at Marine Scotland are to be applauded for taking one of the first concrete steps towards achieving a healthy and productive Clyde by 2020.

“The Clyde’s MPAs have a significant part to play in achieving this vision and the removal of dredgers from the Arran MPA is very positive.

“While we have real issues with the continuation of bottom trawling in the outer areas of the MPA we will be working with Marine Scotland to resolve these during the one month consultation period.” But fisherman’s body the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) say they are angry at the proposal which they maintain go far beyond what was promised for the management of MPAs, accusing the Scottish Government of ‘politial posturing’.

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the SFF, said: “We have over a long period worked with Marine Scotland and the statutory nature advisers SNH and JNCC to agree on a proportional, scientifically-based protection for features and habitats in Scottish waters, whilst avoiding at the same time gratuitous damage to the sustainable harvesting activities of our fishing fleet.

“A great deal of time and money was spent in genuine participation in the consultancy process and we honestly thought that we had in sight a set of compromises on management in the proposed MPAs that would, with a bit of expected give and take, meet the aim and allow us to demonstrate an example of what the Scottish Fisheries Minister has seen fit in the past to call ‘co-management’.

“Unfortunately, the input of the fishing industry was not properly considered in the consultation.

“Our fishermen put their trust in the consultation process and these outcomes may well have implications for future stakeholder engagement.

“Proper protection of Scotland’s marine environment is vital – but instead, the outcome is a piece of overt political posturing.

“There are real features to protect, but there is also, in the affected areas, a real inshore fishing industry, sustainably supplying the seafood that Scotland is justifiably proud of.  “We now find that the phrase “ambitious protection plans’ as used in the Scottish Government official announcement is in reality a synonym for gross over-reach. The areas declared off limits to fishing go far beyond identified features.

“The people to suffer, for no practical reason, will be the inshore fishermen who have done so much to contribute to their communities and to Scotland’s wellbeing.” Chair of COAST Howard Wood, winner of a 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, expressed surprise at the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) sudden lack of support for the Marine Conservation Orders after earlier declaring themselves supportive of MPAs.

He said: “It is clear that all stakeholders have had to make compromises as we are being asked to do and we had expected the SFF to show enlightened self-interest at this late stage in the process.

“It should be obvious to everyone that healthy productive seas will be a huge benefit to all marine stakeholders.” For the full story see this week's Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald.