Consultation about electrofishing for razor clams in Scotland
1. The purpose of this document is to seek views about whether electrofishing should in future be a permitted method by which razor clams may be caught in Scottish sea fisheries.
2. The consultation is only about whether the electrofishing method should be permitted. It is not about how any such fishery might be managed, including for example in relation to any particular controls that might be applied or in terms of any catch limit(s) that may apply to any regulated fishery.
3. Razor clams ( Ensis spp.) (also known as razor fish or, more colloquially, "spoots") are common molluscs found burrowed in sandy inter-tidal and sub-tidal areas throughout Europe. In Scottish waters there are two commercially important species: Ensis arcuatus, colloquially known as "bendies"; and the larger pod razor Ensis siliqua.
4. Fishing with electricity ("Electrofishing") is illegal, under EU regulations made in 1998. There is a limited derogation from the prohibition that permits fishing with beam trawl using electrical pulse current in a specific area of the southern North Sea. The EU legislation that provides for the prohibition (the "Technical Conservation" regime) is now under review. A European Commission proposal for a new Technical Conservation regulation was made in March 2016. Amendment of that proposal, which is being considered by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, could remove the prohibition on electrofishing, either generally or in specified circumstances.
Fishing for razor clams
5. It is not illegal, in itself, to fish or dive for razor clams. Razor clams can be harvested by hand by divers or by different types of dredges, including suction dredges. Electrofishing involves probes being pulled slowly over the sea bed, or very close to it, from a fishing vessel. The electric field stuns the clams and causes them to suddenly emerge from their burrows. Divers follow the probes, collecting the clams.
Razor clam fishing at present
6. It is considered likely that the significant majority of fishing for razor clams taking place at present involves use of the illegal electricity method. Marine Scotland Compliance has taken a range of actions to combat illegality, but enforcement of the prohibition at sea is very difficult, because it can require Fishery Officers and Marine Protection Vessels to catch vessels 'in the act'.
Scientific study of electrofishing
7. Alongside activity to deter and combat illegal fishing, the Government has also been considering whether electrofishing for razors can in fact be conducted safely and sustainably. The safety and sustainability of fishing with electricity have been in dispute for some time and not just within Scotland. To investigate this issue in relation to razor clams, Marine Scotland Science undertook and published, in October 2014, a report: "Electrofishing for Razor Clams: Effects on Survival and Recovery of Target and Non-target Species". The report can be viewed here and we would encourage respondents to read the report:
8. The report concluded that electrofishing for razor clams does not have immediate or short-term lethal effects or prolonged behavioural effects on vertebrate or invertebrate species exposed to the electric field generated. The report also concluded that electrofishing is likely to be more environmentally benign than some other traditional methods, such as dredging and salting in the sub-tidal zone. The report did not however attempt to address the question of long-term sustainability of razor clam populations under various levels of commercial fishing activity. It recommends that there be quantitative assessments of stock size as part of any development of a fishery that is sustainable in relation to the size of the resource.
Options for policy development: discussion with interested parties
9. In light of this emerging evidence, and in in any case through internal consideration of policy, the Scottish Government has been contemplating whether it might be appropriate now to adopt a new approach to electrofishing, and whether, in particular, it might be appropriate to propose that the fishing method be permitted within a regulated and sustainable fishery.
10. The Government is very aware that there are likely to be different views on this issue, including from persons in favour of developing such a fishery and also from those living in close proximity to inshore fishing areas, who might be anxious about any potential negative effects on their marine and local environment.
11. On 30 March 2015 Marine Scotland hosted a meeting in Glasgow to discuss the scientific report referred to above. The meeting was attended by interested parties, including national public bodies, environmental organisations and fishing industry interests.
12. Participants at the workshop discussed a number of issues, and a number of views were offered:
- There needs to be a parallel exercise to understand the current state of the razor stocks and what would be a sustainable extraction rate;
- There was recognition of the benign nature of the fishing method;
- It was recognised that electrofishing is very efficient in terms of harvesting but also in respect of saving fuel and reducing carbon footprint;
- There could be potential benefits for both traditional fishing communities and other areas where fishing activity has not traditionally been a first choice occupation;
- There are concerns about risks to divers working with electricity under water where they may come into contact with live electrodes: the Health and Safety Executive should provide advice on safe practice;
- Vessel safety and stability protocols would need to be considered;
- Regulation and compliance issues will need to be addressed, perhaps with stricter rules in place during an introductory stage;
- There is potential to supply lucrative export markets, but food safety protocols will need to be followed, for their own purposes of course, but also to protect the integrity and reputation of the Scottish brand; and,
- It would be necessary to ensure the security of Marine Protected Areas and the wider marine environment.
13. Full minutes of the workshop, a list of attendees and copies of the presentations given at the event can be found at:
Interim Government view and consultation question
14. In light of the evidence now available, the Government is minded, subject to its consideration of any new evidence and of the views expressed in the consultation, to allow for electrofishing to be a legal method for the catching of razor clams.
15. We underline that this interim view relates only to the permissibility of the method. The Government has taken no view about, and would require to consider, the management requirements for a safe and sustainable fishery. This would include ensuring compliance with protected area legislation, and other environmental requirements. It would also be necessary to consider the funding of any necessary preparatory scientific assessments and connected activities.
16. The Government invites views on the following consultation question:
The Scottish Government welcomes your comments on whether electrofishing should in future be a permitted method for catching razor clams?
Email: Gordon Hart, AccesstoSeaFisheries@gov.scot
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