An ocean conservation group is calling on the Scottish Government to ban bottom-towed fishing gear in the country’s marine protected areas (MPAs).
Oceana say all but two of Scotland’s 24 offshore benthic MPAs were damaged by the practice during more than 44,000 fishing hours recorded last year.
The group says its analysis also suggests about 300 large bottom-trawlers and dredgers “plough Scotland’s protected seabed on a near daily basis”.
Only the deep-sea Hatton-Rockall Basin and Hatton Bank MPAs, far off the west coast, were not bottom-trawled.
The data indicates Scotland’s 69 inshore MPAs were intensely disturbed – including at South Arran, which is designated to protect ocean quahog, kelp and seagrass beds, maerl beds and burrowing bivalves.
Oceana recorded 2,295 fishing hours there compared to the Moray Firth, with its important sandbanks and bottlenose dolphins, where 880 fishing hours were recorded.
Melissa Moore, head of UK policy at Oceana, said: “We are calling on Scottish ministers to take urgent action to ban bottom-towed fishing gear in all of Scotland’s MPAs and reinstate the three nautical mile inshore trawl and dredge ban.
“As well as being destructive, continued licensing of this activity is illegal under marine wildlife laws.
“Scotland needs to step up and protect its rich and diverse marine life.
“These damaging fishing methods also have a devastating impact on blue carbon habitats and ruin the fishing grounds of low-impact fishermen such as creelers.”
Willie Mackenzie, an oceans consultant for Greenpeace UK, said: “Bottom trawlers, which rip up the seabed, have no place in any protected areas at sea, especially those which were set up specifically to protect the seabed.
“It’s ridiculous that the UK’s governments say they have protected vast swathes of seabed, when they still allow bottom trawlers to plough them with alarming regularity.
“We hope Scotland’s government recognises the severity of the climate and nature emergency we’re facing, shows leadership, and bans bottom trawlers from all of Scotland’s protected areas.
“This will safeguard biodiversity, and ensure vast stores of blue carbon remain safely in the deep oceans.”
Earlier this week, an alliance of more than 100 organisations demanded trawlers be banned from fishing within three miles of Scotland’s coasts.
Members of the Our Seas coalition suggested a “modernised” three-mile limit is “not a radical measure” and would benefit both the environment and coastal communities.
A previous ban on trawling the seabed within three miles of the coast was repealed by the UK Government in 1984 – with Ailsa McLellan, the coalition co-ordinator, claiming this “led to what academics called ‘ecological meltdown’”.
Both issues come as talks continue between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Greens over a formal co-operation agreement.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Positive discussions between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Greens on a potential co-operation agreement are ongoing and a further report will be provided to Parliament after the recess.”