An urgent Marine Conservation Order (MCO) has been brought in to safeguard fragile ecosystems off the coast of Wester Ross in Scotland, after the Scottish Government received photographic evidence that a scallop dredger had breached voluntary arrangements by towing in a protected area.
From midnight on 18th August 2015, all forms of dredging have been prohibited in the Wester Ross Marine Protected Area (MPA) which is home to delicate maerl beds. This fragile underwater feature, a form of coralline algae, is a nursery habitat for young scallops as well as other juvenile fish and shellfish, and is an important habitat for many different types of marine life, which live amongst the maerl or are attached to the surfaces.
Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said:
“The seabed shows signs of damage consistent with a pass of scallop-dredging gear. Maerl beds can take centuries to grow back and further risk of damage to these precious habitats cannot be allowed.
“The evidence in this case has left me with no choice but to close the Wester Ross MPA to dredging now, instead of waiting until November as planned.
“Clearly, taking action now to protect these precious nursery habitats will benefit Scotland’s marine environment, local communities and our fishing sector for generations to come.”