Following the announcement that a scientific trial of electrofishing for razor clams would be authorised (under Article 43 of EC Regulation No. 850/98 and SSI 2017/419), 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 and notes of these consultation meetings are available online.
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 online.
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 conclude this work as soon as possible.
The trial launched on 1 February 2018, up to 28 fishing vessels will participate, subject to vessel and gear inspection, operating within the trial areas. The geographical extent of each of these areas is shown on a map, vessels in the razor clam trial may only undertake fishing activity in the trial areas that they have been allocated.
The terms and conditions under which the trial operates were developed with the support of a range of public bodies including the Health and Safety Executive, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Food Standards Scotland and SNH.
Strict controls have been applied to the places where authorised vessels may fish, the electrical equipment on-board, the time that may be spent at sea and the amount of razor clams which may be caught and landed. All vessels participating in the trial will install on-board an additional and bespoke monitoring system which has been designed specifically for the trial. The device provides real time information on the vessel position and when the specified electrical equipment is being used.
Vessels involved in the trial were selected after an application process that was open to all UK registered fishing vessels. Applications were assessed and selected by a cross-departmental panel, which included the Scottish Government, the Health and Safety Executive and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Applications were scored against published criteria that were concerned with vessel safety, economic impact, the safety of diving operations and experience in scientific research.
The trial aims to use scientific surveys, supplemented by information gathered by fishermen, to build an information base about the razor clam trial areas. 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. Razor clam surveys were undertaken over the summer of 2017 in the Clyde and the Sound of Harris.
Further scientific surveys are being planned for 2018 along with a live sampling programme to further the available biological knowledge on the species, such as size at maturity and changes in reproductive condition. Fishing vessels participating in the trial are required to gather information specified by Marine Scotland
Now that the trial has commenced, other fishing for razor clams is prohibited, except for hand gathering of clams from the beach (up to a maximum of 30 clams), for personal consumption.
The findings from the trial will be considered carefully before any decision is made about the future approach to such fishing.