An area of sea off the west coast of Scotland has been designated Europe’s largest Marine Protected Area.
The area covers more than 62,000 square miles and includes the UK’s highest mountain – the seamount Anton Dohrn. The waters around the mountain – halfway between St Kilda and Rockall – are one of only 17 locations in the world where the rare gulper shark has been reported, along with vulnerable species that include slow-growing corals.
But campaigners claimed the move still left critical species at risk.
Natural Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon said: “The designation of this site will be key in achieving the international target of 10% of the world’s oceans covered by an MPA by the end of 2020.”
Thirty per cent of Scotland’s seas are now covered by MPAs, which total more than 200.
However, sustainable seafood charity Open Seas claimed the designation does not go far enough. Nick Underdown, the charity’s head of communications, said: “The MPAs can be meaningless unless government manages the fisheries inside them.”
He said there was evidence of bottom trawling – the dragging of a weighted fishing net across the seabed – on the slopes of Anton Dohrn. “The Scottish Government is failing to stop the damaging bottom-trawling inside MPAs,” he said. “These areas hold expanses of seabed vital for spawning fish, and seamounts carpeted in slow-growing marine life, which should not be scraped bare by bottom trawling.”
Last week it emerged more than 97% of British MPAs are being dredged and bottom trawled. And analysis of data by Oceana, a conservation NGO, found dredging happening in 71 out of 73 of UK offshore MPAs.
The Scottish Government said new laws relating to fishing in MPAs would be introduced once Scotland’s future relationship with the EU has been clarified and would be equivalent to, or exceed, the relevant EU standard. It said, until then, voluntary measures developed by the fishing industry were working well.
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