26 April 2024

Campaigners hail ‘victory for seas’ as ministers lose appeal over dredging

26 April 2024

Campaigners said they have won a “victory for Scotland’s seas” after judges rejected a bid by the Scottish Government to overturn an earlier court ruling in a case centred on fishing practices.

The judgment from the Court of Session in Edinburgh marks another blow for Humza Yousaf’s Government, which is now operating as a minority administration at Holyrood after the First Minister terminated the powersharing deal with the Scottish Greens with immediate effect on Thursday.

A panel of three judges, including Scotland’s most senior judge, Lord President Lord Carloway, upheld a decision by the court in June 2023 after a legal challenge over the Government’s approach to licensing for scallop dredging.

Marine conservation charity Open Seas took the Scottish Government to court, arguing licensing decisions to allow scallop dredging – which involves weighted nets being dragged across the seabed – were unlawful because ministers did not consider their impacts on marine habitats.

The Government had sought to have the ruling overturned, but the panel of judges at the Court of Session rejected the appeal.

In their ruling, the judges said ministers should “take decisions in accordance with their own National Marine Plan”, which was adopted in 2015.

They added: “That does not appear to be too difficult a task. It is one which must be undertaken, because there is a statutory duty to do so.”

Phil Taylor, director of Open Seas, said: “We are extremely pleased that the court has again ruled in support of our petition.

“This result is a victory for Scotland’s seas, and the thousands of people who want to see them safeguarded for future generations.

“Scottish ministers must now fundamentally reform the way they license fishing to ensure that destructive methods like scallop dredging do not cause serious harm to Scotland’s marine environment.”

In the court case, Open Seas provided what it said were examples of environmental damage caused by scallop dredging in areas including the Flotta Sound in Orkney, as well as on the seabed near the islands of Rum, Islay and Scarba, which is north of Jura.

Mr Taylor added that seabeds such as these had “many societal benefits”, including their “vital role as fish nursery and spawning grounds”.

He said: “Scallop dredging undermines the health of our seas and brings no long-term net economic benefit to Scotland.

“This decision should be welcomed as a clear legal framework for Scottish ministers to implement their plans and ensure sustainable use of our seas.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Ministers are considering the decision by the Inner House and will respond in due course.”

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