Following the announcement that a scientific trial of electrofishing for razor clams will be authorised (under Article 43 of EC Regulation No. 850/98), Marine Scotland met interested fishermen, representative bodies, and businesses in order to discuss the areas that might be appropriate for the trial fishery. The meetings concluded with proposals for 11 sites, including areas in the Solway Firth, the Firth of Clyde, the Minches, the Western Isles and the Firth of Forth. Following these discussions, interested environmental organisations were invited to a meeting to discuss the trial and its design. Notes of these consultation meetings are available here.
Marine Scotland also requested advice from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) about any likely significant effects on protected marine features present in the candidate trial areas through the use of the specified electrofishing gear. In its response SNH offered some general advice about the conduct of a trial and also commented on particular areas. In relation to two candidate sites (the Sound of Barra and Luce Bay/Solway Coast) it advised that Marine Scotland will be required to carry out an "appropriate assessment" to determine that there would be no adverse effects on special features there. The exchange of official correspondence between Marine Scotland and SNH is available here.
SNH has also provided advice on what mitigation measures might be required for the appropriate assessments, including the spatial avoidance of fishing on maerl beds and seagrass beds, and we intend to commence this work as soon as possible.
Razor clam surveys were undertaken over the summer of 2017 in the Clyde and the Sound of Harris. The final survey report has now been published and can be viewed here. During the trial Marine Scotland will look to build information about stock abundance across all the areas, with stock assessments carried out on a rotational basis.
During the trial a limited number of fishing vessels will be issued with a derogation to permit the harvesting of razor clams, in restricted areas, using electrofishing gear. Trial participants will be subject to new controls in terms of catch and effort limits, but also to ensure that the fishing gear used does not move outside specified parameters. The application process and the terms under which the trial will operate were developed with a range of public bodies including the Health and Safety Executive, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Food Standards Scotland and SNH.
The trial began in February 2018, supported by a new statutory instrument that provides the trial with integrity and a sound enforcement basis. The SSI prohibits fishing for razor clams in Scottish waters and the landing of razor clams in Scotland, except in specific situations. The legislation is required because illegal electrofishing outside the trial would run the risk of undermining the data gathered and risk local over-exploitation of stocks. It is intended that the trial will continue for a number of fishing seasons, subject to review.
Trial Electrofishery: Application Process
Marine Scotland invited applications for the trial from the owners of UK-registered fishing boats. Details of the trial’s objectives, areas of operation, terms & conditions and guidance on how applications were evaluated, are set out here. (Please note that the closing date for the submission of applications has now passed.)