Marine Scotland catch vessel in night-time raid.
A vessel suspected of illegally fishing for razor clams was caught by Marine Scotland enforcement officers last week, Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead confirmed.
The vessel was intercepted in the early hours of last Thursday morning (September 10, 2015) in an area of the Sound of Jura where collecting or harvesting specific types of shellfish is illegal because the waters are not currently classified and the shellfish may not be fit for human consumption.
The intelligence-led operation, undertaken in partnership with Argyll and Bute Council, led to the seizure of a significant quantity of razor clams, which are worth an estimated £750 in the UK and up to £4,000 in the Far East.
The vessel is also suspected of using electrofishing methods which are not currently permitted in European waters without a specific derogation. Gear which was dumped overboard as Marine Scotland officers approached the vessel has now been recovered by divers.
Those caught face a fixed penalty of up to £10,000 or prosecution through the courts.
Mr Lochhead said:
"Scotland's shellfish enjoys an enviable reputation for taste and quality here and around the world. Our razor clams are particularly in demand in the Far East and it is vital that our reputation is not damaged by produce caught in waters which have not been classified as fit for human consumption.
"Unsuspecting consumers could catch shellfish poisoning from eating the illegal razor clams from unclassified waters.
"That is why catching those involved in this illegal activity is vitally important. Furthermore, the method being used to catch these shellfish is not currently permitted in Scottish waters.
"This intelligence-led operation shows that the Scottish Government, Marine Scotland and local authorities are determined to enforce the law.
"We have seized a large quantity of illegally caught shellfish and have recovered and seized the illegal fishing gear that was dumped into the sea. This will be followed by either a heavy fine or prosecution for those involved. They will not escape lightly.
"This case should serve as a clear warning to any others that continue to engage in illegal fishing that they should stop or risk being caught and facing serious consequences."
Argyll and Bute Councils environmental health service, as a food authority, represented the issues relating to the shellfish which was fished from unclassified waters and was unfit for human consumption to the Justice of the Peace. They have ordered the destruction of the illegal catch and this will be undertaken by Argyll and Bute Council, whose environmental health officers cooperated in the operation.
If the evidence proves to be sufficient, the outcome could be a fixed penalty notice up to the new maximum of £10,000 or referral of the case to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) for consideration of prosecution.
In unclassified waters in the Sound of Jura, it is not permitted to commercially collect or harvest specific types of bivalve molluscs including razor clams, oysters and mussels.
Marine biotoxins, which are produced by certain types of phytoplankton, can accumulate in the tissues of filter feeding shellfish such as mussels, oysters and razor clams. The consumption of shellfish which are contaminated with these biotoxins can lead to illness, ranging from sickness and diarrhoea to more serious conditions which may require hospital treatment.