Fishermen and other interested parties have been raising concerns about the impact electrofishing may have on razor fish stocks and the wider marine ecosystem around the Scottish coast, something which Marine Scotland Science is currently studying.
It is legal to fish or dive for razor clams, but the practice of electrofishing by passing an electric current into the seabed is against the law.
Some vessel operators have been using the technique, banned by the EU since 1998, to gather significant quantities of razor clams worth several thousands’ at current market prices in a single fishing trip.
Following a consultation with all those involved in the industry, the Scottish Government will introduce new licensing arrangements by creating a specific additional authority, with tougher and more enforceable conditions to minimise the risk of illegal electro-fishing. This initiative will require anyone involved in the razor fishery to make a specific application for an authorisation allowing them to prosecute the fishery through legal and sustainable means.
As part of the application process vessels will be inspected by Marine Scotland Fishery Officers to ensure that equipment capable of electro fishing is not installed and checks will be made by HSE (Health and Safety Executive) to ensure that all necessary diving and safety authorisations are in place prior to a razor fish licence being issued.
Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead commented: “Razor fishing is an important part of the fishing industry with landings worth £3.1 million in 2013".
“The Scottish Government cannot support the illegal practice of electro-fishing for razor clams and condemns those who choose to break the law in this respect. We need a strong evidence base before we can consider supporting any relaxation of regulation on electro fishing and Marine Scotland Science is currently carrying out initial trials to gauge wider environmental impacts.
“The introduction of these new licensing arrangements demonstrates our continued commitment to working with everyone involved in the industry to tackle illegal activity including electrofishing within this fishery.
“A fit for purpose licensing structure is key to sustainably developing and protecting legitimate fisheries for the long term benefit of local coastal communities whilst combatting illegal activities of criminal gangs such as electrofishing.”
Duncan MacInnes, Western Isles Fishermen's Association said: “We welcome the new licensing arrangements for the razor fish fishery. Clearly, the new arrangements will ensure that those involved in the fishery are fully qualified and more detailed inspection of vessels will create a safer working environment for employees.
“Developing a sustainable, well managed and profitable razor fish fishery is a key objective for the local industry and working in partnership with other key stakeholders those new arrangements will provide the foundation to achieving that objective.”
Scottish Government officials will shortly communicate detailed arrangements to industry allowing them to make applications for the new licence.