Controls urged on scallop boats to protect Yorkshire's fisheries

THE European Union should set new controls preventing scallop dredgers from roaming the coast and undermining local fisheries, according to an academic.

Prof Callum Roberts, from the University of York, says scallop dredgers should be limited as to where they can fish because they cause so much damage.

Earlier this summer there were threats of legal action after Scottish dredgers moved south into the prime shellfishing area off the Holderness coast, wrecking thousands of pounds' worth of local fishing gear.

There are no quotas set by the EU on scallop fishing, but Prof Roberts, a marine conservation biologist who has advised US, British and Caribbean governments on the creation of marine reserves, said tougher controls were "long overdue".

He said: "Scallop fisheries are incredibly destructive of the seabed.

"If you look at the sort of gear they are using they are these steel tooth dredges that are dragged along the seabed with teeth that dig 15 to 20cm into the bottom and kick up the scallops so they are caught in steel chainlink bags at the back of the dredge.

"To deny that it causes damage is disingenuous. What we need is to control where scallop dredging takes place."

He added: "The EU needs to step in and start regulating scallop dredgers as it is undermining other fisheries.

"It's high time; they need to get their skates on. They are not a quota species; they really should be and they really want to be regulated.

"The only regulations there are a mesh-size limit and some seasonal restrictions."

Prof Roberts said practices like bottom trawling should also be banned from large areas to sustain the productivity of other species such as cod, halibut and skate.

A 20,000 kilometre square protected area established off Boston on the eastern seaboard of the USA 15 years ago has seen fisheries including the scallop fishery bounce back, he said.

However locally the kilometre- square "no take" zone set up at Flamborough, was "pocket handkerchief-sized", he said, adding: "It's not going to do very much for conservation. If it was bigger it would."

The Scottish incursion – while legal – outraged the local shellfishing fleet after the scallopers demanded a 144-square-mile area to work in, just days after clearing a 43-square-mile area which had been agreed.

An armada of boats eventually had to leave Bridlington harbour to back up one of their fleet which had mounted guard in the area.

In September areas of seabed around Shetland were closed to dredging as part of a voluntary agreement to protect species defined "important" by the EU.

The Isle of Man Government, which established a protected area some years ago, recently introduced a bylaw excluding part of the Scottish scallop fleet from its waters.

Prof Roberts said: "In the end these sorts of closures will benefit scallopers because they allow scallop breeding populations to build up and help with the replenishment of fished areas. The protected area has produced something like 100 times as many scallop eggs per unit area as the fishing grounds do."

No one was available from the UK Scallop Association yesterday, but following the complaints of local fishermen earlier this year members said they'd been pilloried without any evidence.

The association said shellfishermen were also blamed for saturating fishing grounds with pots, which became traps for other marine life.

For the last two decades now shellfishing has been the main source of income for fishermen on the Holderness coast. There are around 40 boats operating out of Bridlington and three landing companies in the port.

Scallops are found throughout the world's oceans. Most scallops are filter feeders and eat plankton.