Suspected illegal dredging incident in Wester Ross MPA probed

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The Wester Ross Marine Protected Area includes Loch Broom

An investigation has been launched into an alleged incident of illegal scallop dredging in a marine protected area (MPA).

Marine Scotland has received a report of a fishing boat around the Summer Isles in the Wester Ross MPA last week.

Dredging is banned in the north west Highlands MPA, which also covers Loch Broom near Ullapool.

The Scottish government confirmed Marine Scotland was investigating the allegation.

The Wester Ross MPA was set up to protect wildlife and also glacial features from the last Ice Age.

Parts of the seabed are carpeted with maerl, a hard purple-pink seaweed.

There are also flame shell beds and mud burrowed by Norway lobsters.

'Completely unacceptable'

Evidence of the last Ice Age include huge scars on the seabed left by the movement of glaciers and piles of dropped boulders and pebbles.

The Scottish government said dredging was subject to strict regulations and any illegal activity was "completely unacceptable".

A spokeswoman said: "We can confirm a case of suspected illegal dredging in the Wester Ross Marine Protected Area has been reported to Marine Scotland.

"We would ask anyone who has any evidence of this event to bring it forward."

Nick Underdown, of environmental group Open Seas, said it was sad to learn of another incident of suspected illegal dredging.

He said: "There have been a succession of similar reports of suspected illegal scallop dredging inside MPAs, and in many cases evidence of severe damage to the seabed."

Image source, SNH/Scottish government
Image caption,
Flame shells in Loch Carron were found to have been damaged by dredging in 2017

Mr Underdown added: "The current enforcement regime is ineffective and needs urgent reform. Environmental recovery inside protected areas will simply not happen unless illegal dredging is dealt with."

Earlier this year, a fragile flame shell reef which was severely damaged by scallop dredging on Scotland's north west coast was granted permanent protection.

Ministers had issued a temporary order banning mobile fishing on Loch Carron after the 2017 incident.

Divers who visited the reef, which is a nursery ground for scallops, found the area had been "intensively" dredged.

In May an area of the sea loch was given MPA status.

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