Electro-fishing trial for razor clams to be held
A controlled trial of a controversial method of catching razor clams using electricity has been authorised by the Scottish government.
Electro-fishing involves probes being slowly dragged across the sea bed.
Razor clams - or spoots - are increasingly in demand by overseas markets and fishermen can command a high price for their catch.
They can currently only be legally harvested by hand, by divers or by different types of dredges.
The move to allow a trial of electro-fishing comes after a Scottish government consultation.
It was launched after a report by Marine Scotland found that electro-fishing had a lower environmental impact than methods like dredging and it had little short-term effect on other species.
What is electro-fishing?
Electro-fishing uses electricity that flows between two submerged terminals, with the water being used to conduct the charge. When the method is used to catch razor clams, the equipment is typically powered by a generator on board a small vessel. The electric rig is dragged across the seabed with a diver following to pick up the clams.
Permissions to undertake electro-fishing would require the Scottish government to inform the European Commission.
Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said the trial would investigate the size and potential for commercial razor clam production and ensure fisheries could be operated sustainably with appropriate harvest rates.
'Precious marine environment'
Marine Scotland will now consult on the best locations for trials to take place.
Mr Ewing said: "Scotland has a rich and diverse natural environment with a coastline that is world renowned - not only for its unique habitats but also for high-quality seafood.
"Responses to our consultation and previous research suggests that, where properly applied, electro-fishing can be a sustainable and safe method of harvesting razor clams in a way that is less intrusive than traditional methods like dredging.
"We will now undertake scientific trials in specified areas to ensure we fully understand the potential of the industry, and how we best access the economic possibilities in this area."
Objections to the technique include fears that it could kill or harm other fish in the vicinity.
Green MSP, Mark Ruskell said: "Dredging the sea bed for razor clams has a horrific impact, but to switch to electro-fishing instead won't allow our precious marine environment to recover.
"EU laws that protect the environment should not be undermined by the Scottish government in its eagerness to grow industries beyond the carrying capacity of the ecosystems they rely on."
Liane Veitch, fisheries team leader for environmental lawyers ClientEarth said: "Innovation in fishing is more important than ever, but we need to make sure that any policy changes are backed up by good scientific evidence.
"There is currently very little information about the environmental impacts of electro-fishing for razor clams, and in particular what the medium to long-term impacts on the seabed might be. We encourage the Scottish government to assess this as part of the pilot study.
"If the environmental impacts turn out to be lower than currently approved methods, it will be critical to make sure this gear is used sustainably - that it won't overexploit razor clam populations - and that it is effectively monitored and controlled."