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Judge to consider legal challenge over scallop dredging in Scottish waters

A judge is considering claims the Scottish Government is failing to take into account a policy designed to protect the marine environment when granting licences for a fishing technique campaigners say is wrecking the sea bed.

Lord Braid heard the claims at the Court of Session in Edinburgh after campaign group Open Seas raised a petition for a judicial review involving a recent decision taken by Marine Scotland to vary a scallop fishing licence involving the practice of bottom-trawling it argues put vulnerable habitat at risk.

James Findlay KC argued on the group’s behalf that the decision failed to take full cognisance of a policy contained in Scotland’s National Marine Plan which states the development and use of the marine environment “must comply with legal requirements for protected areas and protected species”.

Mr Findlay said it was clear from documents obtained from NatureScot it had identified several species, seaweeds and seagrasses it considered to be at particular risk from the physical disturbances brought about by bottom-trawling.

However he argued no effective policy was in place to suitably protect or enhance these marine features other than that contained in the marine plan and that it appeared the document was not being followed when decisions were being taken to change licences.

His claims were disputed by solicitor Christine O’Neill who argued on behalf of the Scottish Government that the implementation of secondary legislation through Scottish Statutory Instruments was achieving much the same aim.

Mr Findlay said at the conclusion of the hearing Open Seas were seeking a ruling that would require Marine Scotland to take more account of the national marine plan policy in its licensing decisions in future.

Speaking outside the court during a short break during the proceedings on Monday morning Open Seas director Phil Taylor commented: “It’s vitally important we use the seas for the greatest public benefit.

“What we are arguing here is that harmful forms of fishing needs to be licensed in a way that takes into account the marine environment.”

Mr Taylor added: “It’s regrettable we have ended up in court against the Scottish Government who are represented by 14 individuals compared to our six.”

Until 1984, bottom-trawling was banned in all waters within three miles of shoreline, but the practice is now legal in this area, known as the inshore zone.

Open Seas is campaigning for an updated version of the inshore limit to be brought in.

Lord Braid will now consider the matter before issuing a decision in due course.