Our Sea – which includes groups such as the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation (SCFF) and the National Trust for Scotland (NTS – has launched a petition demanding a three-mile boundary is once again put in place around the Scottish coastline to protect important habitats from the most damaging fishing methods.
A century-long ban on bottom-towed fishing within three miles of the shore was lifted in 1984 and has been linked to sharp drops in numbers of spawning fish, including west coast stocks of cod and whiting, and the collapse of Scotland’s inshore fishing industry.
Campaigners have accused Scottish ministers of bad management, demanding action is taken to help species and habitats bounce back.
Our Seas coordinator Ailsa McLellan, a shellfish and seaweed farmer, said: “We have accepted the chronic decline in our fisheries for too long; now we must address the causes.
“This is a hidden biodiversity crisis on our doorstep.
“Some of the habitats being lost are significant carbon sinks. They must be protected and allowed to recover.
“There is overwhelming evidence that coastal nursery and spawning grounds are damaged by bottom-towed fishing gear, and that this has directly contributed to a decline in marine life and the historical collapse of many fish populations.
“These declines are the fault of ineffective fisheries management, not the fishermen.
“Declines cannot be reversed until the Scottish Government reintroduces spatial management and incentivises a transition away from the use of intensive fishing gears close to shore.”
Research from the SCFF suggests that the ecological benefits of stopping trawl activity in the inshore area could allow 450 extra creel boats to work in the area, providing thousands of new jobs to an industry dealing with multiple pressures – from fish scarcity to the impacts of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.
The 2020 Scottish Marine Assessment report highlighted the extent of the biodiversity crisis, with 417 hectares of carbon-rich seabed habitats and important fish nursery grounds decimated in the past decade.
The West Highland region has lost 90 per cent of its serpulid reefs, while 27 per cent seagrass meadows have vanished from waters surrounding the Hebrides and the Moray Firth has been almost entirely stripped of blue mussel beds.
Stuart Brooks, head of conservation and policy at the NTS, added: “A body of evidence has been created which shows the impact of bottom-trawl fishing on our seabed habitats, on marine populations and on local fishing industries.
“Scotland has both the will and the expertise to collectively address this crisis and put in place a sustainable fishing policy that works for our economy and our environment.”
“We encourage the Scottish Government to do this in a way that fully supports fishermen through the transition to protect jobs and ease movement towards more sustainable methods.”
The coalition aims to raise further awareness of the crisis with the launch of a new documentary film, The Limit, which showcases first-hand accounts of the impact of the removal of the inshore boundary.