Bob Earll: The issue of mechanical kelp harvesting in Scotland has become a very high profile controversy over the last six months. The links below highlight the current decision by the Scottish Parliament. Whilst it has been cast as a classic protection versus management issue, the reality is that in many ways it has been a fundamental failure of process. Kelp habitats in the UK have to date not been subjected to ‘fishery style’ cropping, although this is taking place in Ireland and Norway.

The real difficulty is one of precedent. If this genie is let out of the bottle – what will be the routine controls over exploitation and management? We see this routinely in the debate about the lack of effective management of fish farming and its consequential impacts and with fisheries like trawling for prawns or scallops. Trying to control established activities even when they are clearly damaging and with a weight of scientific evidence against them is notoriously difficult.

A great deal more ground work is needed to see what the impacts of any proposals would be. See the links below:

Scottish Government to Review Kelp Harvesting Rules

Wild Kelp harvesting scoping report

Scottish Parliament briefing 12th Nov 2018

MCSUK ‘During the final stage of the Crown Estate (Scotland) Bill progressing through the Scottish Parliament today, Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) voted to ban the removal of entire kelp plants from Crown Estate seabed for commercial use. However concerns were raised over the legitimate level of protection due to the lack of definition of the term ‘commercial use’ and the loosely defined nature of the amendments put forward. Kelp forests are one of the most biologically productive ecosystems on planet Earth and have often been compared to rainforest by those including Sir David Attenborough and Charles Darwin, for the life they support. An application to mechanically harvest Scotland’s wild kelp came as a great concern to the team at MCS. Local campaign groups immediately began to lobby Members of Scottish parliament and raise awareness over the destruction this mechanical harvesting would cause. Prohibiting mechanical kelp dredging was brought to the attention of parliament after more than 10,000 people signed a petition calling for a ban.

Calum Duncan, MCS Head of Conservation Scotland noted: “Sustainable hand-gathering of kelp has very careful measures in place that require the base to remain attached to the reef. Mechanically stripping swathes of pristine kelp forest clean from the reef at the scale proposed simply cannot be considered sustainable. In today’s parliamentary session one of the most debated items on the agenda was over proposed amendments to introduce specific regulations for kelp harvesting in Scotland. Amendments to the historic Crown Estate (Scotland) Bill, which is devolving the management of Scottish Crown Estate assets to Scotland, were put forward by Mark Ruskell MSP, supported by Claudia Beamish MSP and ultimately backed by Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Roseanna Cunningham MSP. However, as the debate unfolded it also became clear that these welcome amendments will not fully protect all of Scotland’s last great wilderness.

“Kelp forests are hugely important to our marine environment. They dampen waves, protecting coastal communities from flooding and erosion, act as a habitat for hundreds of species, and store more carbon dioxide than the rainforest.” – Mark Ruskell MSP These issues arrived in Parliament thanks to the tireless efforts of local campaigners including kelp hand-gatherer Ailsa McLennan, #HelptheKelp, Ullapool Sea Savers and many others, along with the energy and support of concerned and empowered individuals.

Calum added: “This is fantastic news for Scotland’s kelp forests, an outcome testament to people power on an historic day with powers on devolving management of Crown Estate assets being debated in the Scottish Parliament. Protection of kelp plants from being entirely removed from the seabed for commercial use has been assured thanks to welcome cross-party support. The Environment Secretary is to be commended for listening to the evidence and to coastal community concern. Everybody supports thriving coastal communities and sustainable green businesses and this outcome brings that one step closer.” Click here to read more

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