Highlands & Islands

Decision on kelp harvesting restrictions crazy, says MBL

Kelp Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Scottish government is to order a review into the regulations around seaweed harvesting

A boss at a firm planning to mechanically harvest kelp said a decision to ban such operations "seemed a bit crazy".

Ayr-based Marine Biopolymers Ltd (MBL) proposed extracting chemicals from the seaweed for use in pharmaceuticals.

On Wednesday, MSPs agreed to new restrictions on certain types of seaweed harvesting and to a review.

MBL's Douglas MacInnes said his firm was not given the chance to respond to concerns raised about its plans.

MSPs and green groups voiced concerns that "mechanical" harvesting prevents the plants from re-growing, and has a "devastating" impact on kelp forests and the sealife that inhabits them.

Mr MacInnes said that whole plants had to be harvested to extract the chemicals needed, but he added that fresh kelp could establish itself on the bare rocky seabed left behind.

He said: "We planned to take 0.15% of the standing crop of which nature takes 10 to 15% per annum through storms.

"People have a right to complain, but a lot of the information put out was incorrect."

'Completely disregarded'

Mr MacInnes said MBL was overwhelmed by a social media campaign opposing its plans.

He said: "We are scientists and engineers. We are not good on social media.

"We followed the processes that were asked of us by Marine Scotland and others and that has been completely disregarded by the way the government have chosen to handle this."

Mr MacInnes said the company, which had been working on its proposals since 2009, had secured investment of £2.5m, "mostly from Scottish people" and help from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Enterprise.

He said: "So if you think about it, it is illogical what is happening to us.

"We have gone through the formal processes with help from these organisations to be thwarted by the way the government has chosen to deal with this. It seems a bit crazy to me really."

Mr MacInnes said MBL had submitted a scoping report, but had been denied the chance of producing an environmental impact study or consult on its plans with the fishing industry and communities from "Stornoway to Solway".

'Burgeoning industry'

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said the government would be writing to MBL as a result of the changes made on Wednesday, and urged companies to keep engaging with the authorities.

She told MSPs: "There is current interest and there may be more interest in future in new types of seaweed harvesting in Scottish water.

"I hope all who are concerned to be part of this burgeoning industry will continue to engage with the government and relevant authorities."

A Scottish government spokesman said: "We want to ensure that our marine environment is protected and that both existing harvesting activity and future proposals are sustainable.

"Having listened to the views and concerns expressed in recent weeks, we have committed to further gathering of evidence as we continue to consider the position on sustainable harvesting and farming of wild kelp.

"This will be informed by a review of the regulatory regime for all kelp harvesting activity in Scotland.

"While we support Scotland's biotechnology sector, it is important that activities in the sector are not undertaken at the expense of our environment."

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