An alliance of more than 100 organisations is demanding that trawlers be banned from fishing within three miles of Scotland’s coasts.
Members of the Our Seas coalition insisted that a “modernised” three-mile limit is “not a radical measure” and would benefit both the environment and coastal communities.
With talks taking place between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Greens over a formal co-operation agreement, the group is pressing both parties to consider the issue.
While there had previously been a ban on trawling the seabed within three miles of the coast, this was repealed by the UK Government in 1984 – with Ailsa McLellan, Our Seas coalition co-ordinator, claiming this “led to what academics called ‘ecological meltdown’”.
She said: “There are many marine policy areas where we want to see change, given this country’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach to our marine ecology and economy.
“But a return to a modernised three-mile limit is the single measure which we collectively believe would bring the greatest benefits for our waters, our environment, and for this country’s coastal communities.”
Ms McLellan added: “This is not a radical measure – bottom-trawling was previously banned in our inshore waters – and it will make our seas and fisheries more resilient in the future.”
The Our Seas coalition is made up of a range of organisations, including inshore fishing associations, community groups, sea anglers, tourism businesses, and environmental organisations.
Research for the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation (SCFF) – one of the members of the coalition – found that for every thousand tonnes of langoustine caught by creeling rather than trawling, the Scottish economy would see more than £6.7 million in additional benefits, with more than £400,000 additional profit for the sector.
Alistair Sinclair, national co-ordinator of the SCFF, said: “Our members fish in a way which is genuinely sustainable for the long term, but the value of our fisheries are hampered by the activities of a poorly regulated minority.”
He argued: “A return of an inshore limit is really a compromise, and both parties should be persuaded to see it as such. It would bring back a little balance to the way this country manages its seas.
“It’s not an end to dredging and bottom-trawling, but would ensure they only operate in waters where those methods do much less damage.”
Meanwhile Annabel Lawrence, from the Community Association of Lochs and Sounds, told how hand divers, sea anglers, marine tourism businesses and community activists all wanted to see change.
She said: “Being forced to live with the status quo, watching a small number of boats damage the seabed, is painful and frustrating.
“Politicians – both SNP and Green – need to make meaningful decisions now to end this destruction of our seabed. We need change, and that means protecting our most sensitive seas from the most damaging practices.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have made clear that sustainability is at the heart of how we will manage Scotland’s fisheries.
“In addition to our network of Marine Protected Areas, there are fishing controls and a policy of restrictive licensing in place to limit the number of Scottish scallop vessels, the number of days they fish, and technical measures … and minimum landing size of king scallops.
“It should be noted there are fewer nephrops, which includes scallops, being landed than a decade ago and there are fewer nephrop trawlers and more creel fishing vessels.
“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.”