‘Illegal’ dredging could be taking place in the Firth of Lorn, say divers

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Two Argyll divers spotted what they think are illegal scallop dredging markings in the protected Firth of Lorn.

Davy Stinson from Taynuilt and Steve Barlow from Kilmore noticed damage to the seabed when they dived in the Marine Protected Area last week.

Speaking to The Oban Times, David Stinson, who has been diving since 1980 said: ‘It might only be a few boats, but this last winter with the long, dark nights, everywhere we are diving here, we have seen damage.

‘The stuff we saw last week was from within 48 hours. We didn’t have a camera so we went back out a few days later and had an under water camera and were able to document the damage. When I first started there was no dredging at all.’

Speaking about the damage, the clam-diver added: ‘It’s heart-breaking after having seen this recovery.’

John McAlister , who has been a scallop dredger for more than 40 years, said: ‘We are a really big operation and we are not allowed to fish in the Firth of Lorn. We have not been, although other vessels have. All our boats have a system, so we can prove where our vessels fish.’

However, Mr McAlister said that two smaller boats are operating during the hours of darkness that don’t have a tracking system.

He added: ‘The boats that are doing it are two man boats with no fully qualified fishermen on board. They are not commercial fishermen.

‘The commercial dredgers have done nothing wrong. It’s the rogue boats out there that are doing wrong.’

Nick Underdown, from the environmental charity Open Seas, went out with Davy and Steve to look at the markings.

Nick said: ‘We are really concerned around the illegal dredging in the Marine Protected Area. ‘We are concerned this is damaging the reputation of our seafood industry.

‘We are not anti-dredging. We think there are potential areas where it would have less of an impact.

‘If you leave the seabed alone, it will recover. These protections should benefit all parts of the industry long term.’

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: ‘We have received recent reports of suspected illegal dredging in the area. Marine Scotland Compliance are actively investigating the activities of a number of suspect vessels.’