Posted on July 19, 2023
A campaign group that took the Scottish Government to court over fishing activity have claimed they are still granting licences despite a court ruling which found the practice unlawful.
Open Seas has called on the Scottish Government to “immediately halt” their approach to licensing fishing activity in ways that cause significant harm to seabed reefs and marine-protected areas after the Court of Session in Edinburgh issued a ruling last week declaring the fisheries licensing decision to be unlawful.
The group says it would be “grossly negligent” of the Scottish Government if licences continued to be granted for scallop dredging and trawling, which, the group say, cause serious harm to areas of seabed known to hold precious habitats and reefs.
Last week, the Court of Session issued a decision finding the Scottish Government failed to act in accordance with the National Marine Plan, following a judicial review by Open Seas.
Lord Braid issued the ruling on July 7, after a full court hearing in May, declaring the Government’s decision “unlawful” because it had acted in contravention of the requirements of section 15 of the Marine Scotland Act 2010.
Marine Scotland routinely changes the licenves it issues to fishermen around the country and foreign vessels fishing in Scottish waters, constraining the amount of fish that can be caught, the places where fishing can take place and even the speed vessels are allowed to travel.
The Scottish Government is legally obliged to act in accordance with its environmental duties, stated in the National Marine Plan, when making these weekly decisions but has not been doing so.
The hearing took place at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
Open Seas argued that the Scottish Government was failing to consider the ongoing impacts of scallop dredging and trawling.
Phil Taylor, director of Open Seas said: “We have had to go to court to establish there is a duty to act immediately to protect marine habitats. We know where these habitats are.
“The Scottish Government knows where these habitats are. There is now no excuse to continue approving the harm being caused to them.
“The Scottish Government is not a bureaucratic bystander, it is actively licensing scallop dredging in areas that cause harm to the very marine habitats they are duty-bound to protect.
“Business as usual is not an option.
“In the 21st century, when governments around the world acknowledge there is a global biodiversity crisis, it is grossly negligent for the Scottish Government to be licensing damaging in a way that risks further degradation of these habitats.
“Scallop dredging is recognised to be the most harmful method of fishing in Europe, and yet is restricted in less than 5% of Scotland’s coastal seas.
“The very least the government can do is take steps to ensure that the activities they are licensing do not degrade the habitats they are duty-bound to protect.
“It is remarkable that this SNP and Scottish Green party coalition government is now knowingly giving this harmful industry a right to harm these habitats, which act as vital fish nursery grounds.
“The public debate around HPMAs has shown clearly that communities make an important distinction between damaging fishing types like bottom-trawling and dredging and lower impact methods such as creeling and hand-diving.
“It’s time the Scottish Government took urgent action to stop scallop dredging damaging our seabeds and prioritise sustainable fishing.
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government, said: “Ministers are considering the court’s decision and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”