Lobby group condemned for errors over Shetland shellfish
December 20th 2017
Managers of Shetland’s inshore shellfish fleet and local scientists have condemned marine conservation lobbyists for a series of false allegations about the sustainability of king scallops from the islands.
Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO) and the NAFC Marine Centre UHI accused Open Seas of mounting a “smear campaign” designed to derail the re-accreditation process currently being undertaken by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).
The two organisations have also highlighted a series of factual errors relating to Shetland shellfish published on the Open Seas website, including a claim that the stock of scallops has almost halved in size since MSC status was first attained in 2012 when the biomass has in fact remained stable.
SSMO Chairman Ian Walterson said: “We have a very well managed and sustainable scallop fishery in Shetland because fishermen, scientists and government have actively worked together to make and keep it that way.
“To attain MSC status five years ago we had to provide a huge amount of information that was fully audited, a process that we have repeated for the re-accreditation, although the final decision will not be taken until January.
“By contrast, Open Seas has resorted to a series of incorrect assertions utterly devoid of supporting evidence that together amount to a smear campaign.
“They must correct these errors now and apologise to the fishermen whose livelihoods they seem intent on destroying for no good reason.”
Mr Walterson added: “Their blanket characterisation of scallop dredging as ecologically damaging is just plain silly – our fishermen dredge in areas where the seabed is frequently disturbed by natural wave action and currents.
“Anyone who knows anything about Shetland will understand that waves and currents are considerable. In total, just five per cent of the seabed out to the six-mile limit is dredged.”
Meanwhile Dr Beth Mouat, Joint Head of Marine Science & Technology at the NAFC Marine Centre, has challenged the assertions made by Open Seas on its website.
“It is very disappointing to see the facts and science misrepresented or in some cases completely ignored, purely to meet a political agenda,” she said.
“If Open Seas had spoken to those involved in the fishery in Shetland they would have had a greater understanding the positive and pro-active approach taken on sustainability.”
Open Seas claim: The stock of scallops has almost halved since 2012. Fact: Stock assessments for the SSMO area show thebiomass has remained stable and this is reflected in very stable catch, effort and landings per unit effort data. All of the indicators used in managing this fishery indicate that it is being managed in a sustainable way. The number of vessels with access to the fishery is limited via licencing, while the amount of effort is limited via dredge limits and a night time curfew.
Open Seas claim: Closed areas of the seabed are voluntary and small, amounting to just 20 sq km. Fact: Closed areas are statutory at the behest of fishermen who wanted vulnerable seabed habitats protected and represent 10.73 per cent of the area fished for scallops.
Open Seas claim: Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have not been taken into consideration in the assessment process. Fact: SSMO and NAFC Marine Centre have worked closely with Marine Scotland on proposed MPA management. MPAs are not closed to fishing, but very often concerns over impact have already been mitigated by existing statutory closures.
Open Seas claim: Horse mussels are rare, yet form a significant by-catch. Fact: Horse mussels are ubiquitous around Shetland. It is horse mussel beds, which are protected by the SSMO, that are rare.
Open Seas claim: Because Scottish priority marine features have not been considered in the assessment process, policy in Shetland lags behind national policy, Fact: Many of these features are not present in the area managed by SSMO, nor are they suitable scallop habitat and therefore are not subject to scallop dredging. SSMO’s active management under a locally-specific Regulating Order to protect priority marine features demonstrates that Shetland is very much in harmony with national policy.