An investigation has been launched by Marine Scotland after reports of suspected illegal scallop dredging in the protected waters of the Firth of Lorn.
The move comes as pressure mounts on the Scottish Government to stop the destruction of the seabed from illegal fishing, amid concerns that dredging is on the increase.
David Ainsley, 61, a diver from the Isle of Seil, told a recent meeting of “concerned parties” in Oban that he took video footage and photos of a boat, complete with dredging gear, in the Firth of Lorn on 18 and 19 November.
Mr Ainsley, a wildlife boat tour operator who has been diving in Scottish waters since 1976, said: “The Firth of Lorn is a special area of conservation, it has been closed to scallop dredging for 12 years and the life on the seabed has recovered dramatically. Tthere are more fish there now and an MSC study has shown that porpoise numbers have increased by 286 per cent in ten years. It’s one of the best protected areas in Scotland.
“On the night of 18 November 18 and 19 November we photographed a boat moving slowly and erratically at the Garvellachs on grounds that we know to be scallop grounds. Our suspicion was that it was dredging.”
Mr Ainsley contacted Marine Scotland to report the incident and inspectors took evidence and examined the area where the boat was seen.He said: “Divers have found, in three separate dives, recently dredged ground. We started the dive on a terraced bed rock slope which I have dived in the past and the turf on that rocky reef was full of silt when it hadn’t been in the past.
“We came on to dredged ground, you can see gouges in the seabed in a line, with very little left alive, you could see deeper grooves, where the dredges had dug in. We have been diving around here for many, many years and it’s pretty easy to know dredged ground.”
He added: “We know that boats have been dredging, we know it’s happening and it must stop because areas that are supposed to be protected are just gradually being ruined. Only 5 per cent of Scottish waters are protected from scallop dredging, there needs to be more determination to stop illegal fishing.”
Nick Underdown, a spokesman for Openseas, a group which is campaigning for sustainable management of marine resources in Scotland, said fishing and community representatives had joined with environmental organisations to voice concern at the meeting in Oban. He said: “Communities around Scotland are very unhappy with the inadequacies of the Scottish Government to stop illegal scallop dredging.”
Alistair Sinclair, of the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Assocation, said: “We are very aware of the situatuion and it’s bitterly disappointing.”