A REPORT published today has led the Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO) to alter the areas that are closed to scallop dredging in order to conserve and protect sensitive habitats.
The SSMO originally obtained assistance from the Department of Marine Sciences and Technology to voluntarily develop and implement a spatial management plan two years ago that has since afforded ‘biogenic reefs’ formed by horse mussels, coralline maerl and eel grass protection from potential disturbance. These habitats, which are listed in the EU Habitats Directive as requiring conservation, are found in a number of locations around the biologically rich waters of Shetland. The industry-science partnership initiative that led to the closures has been praised by a number of conservation bodies since and was also fundamental in the SSMO obtaining Marine Stewardship Council accreditation for its king scallop fishery in 2012.
The NAFC Marine Centre undertook extensive acoustic and visual surveys of the original closed areas after some doubt was raised as to the validity of the data on which some areas had been based. Although some original data sources were quite dated, limited in quality or had not been validated, fishermen agreed to close areas on a precautionary basis while the complex and extensive work was undertaken. The new study has provided much more detailed information than previously available and therefore allows for more representative boundaries to be established.
Head of Marine Science and Technology at the Marine Centre, Dr Martin Robinson, said: “This was an innovative step toward responsible fisheries management at the time, and remains so still. Shetland provides a unique example of how a Regulating Order has been used to allow local fishermen to manage local resources and protect priority marine features and habitats that may be sensitive to disturbance. This type of locally driven initiative is unique to Shetland. Science and industry has worked very closely together to provide this very positive outcome, one which has been delivered through honest and open local stakeholder engagement. We now have 20 km square of sea area spread over 15 locations around Shetland closed to scallop dredging to help conserve these important features.”
SSMO Chairman, Ian Walterson, added: “The Board of the SSMO were briefed on recommended changes to the boundaries of the closed areas by staff from NAFC’s Marine Science Department recently and chose to unanimously accept them based on the very detailed and clear report that they have produced.
“It is clear that a great deal of time and effort has been invested in helping the SSMO to develop an innovative and realistic spatial management framework that works towards enhancing the sustainability of our fisheries in the context of stocks, environment and the community.
“The release of the report and the rapid implementation of its recommendations comes at a time when national media attention toward scallop fishing has been less than positive; we are proud to be able to provide a more positive and pro-active example of how things can be done. We are grateful to the department for their continued support and look forward to further co-working.”