Scottish Government response to consultation about electrofishing for razor clams in Scotland.
1. In August 2016 the Scottish Government launched a consultation on whether electrofishing should be a permitted method of fishing for razor clams  . The consultation ran for 6 weeks and concluded on 30 September 2016, with 104 responses received. Individual responses were published, subject to permission, in October 2016  . An analysis of the consultation is being published alongside this paper.
2. This paper provides a summary of the Scottish Government's response to the key points made by respondents to the consultation, and describes Ministers' decisions with regard to the future of Scotland's razor clam fishery. It also draws together advice received from the European Commission's primary scientific advisor; the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries.
3. The Scottish Government is grateful for the time that individuals and organisations took to respond to the consultation. Stakeholder expertise and experience is vital to informing policy direction.
Should electrofishing be a permitted method of catching razor clams?
4. The consultation explained that the Government, in light of scientific evidence  which suggests electrofishing could be a low impact method of harvesting razor clams, was considering whether it might be appropriate to adopt a new approach to electrofishing, and whether, in particular, it might be appropriate to propose that the fishing method be permitted within a regulated and sustainable fishery. Comments were welcomed on whether electrofishing should in future be a permitted method for catching razor clams?
What we heard:
5. The consultation generated a diversity of views, with opinions spanning the spectrum from positive to impartial to negative.
6. The key concerns in regards to permitting electrofishing were clear and consistent. In particular, it was felt that not enough is currently known about the potential implications of electrofishing on the wider marine ecosystem and the ability of local razor clam populations to support the electrofishing method.
7. Support for the legalisation of electrofishing tended to be on the grounds that it is a very selective method of capture, producing high quality product with little impact on the sea bed. Many respondents felt that a legalised electrofishery could deliver social and economic benefits to rural, fragile communities.
The Scottish Government response
8. We recognise that electrofishing is a matter that divides opinion and generates considerable debate. We agree that current illegal electrofishing practices in Scottish waters are unacceptable; deterring and combatting illegal electrofishing remains an operational priority for Marine Scotland. We appreciate the concerns of respondents living in close proximity to inshore fishing areas who report personal observations of the current illegal fishery.
9. We recognise that whilst scientific research has demonstrated that electrofishing for razor clams causes less physical habitat damage than methods such as dredging and has limited short term impact on target and non-target species, the research also notes the need for stock assessments and further research.
10. We consider that many of the concerns raised in the consultation can be attributed to the novelty of the electrofishing method and we regard many of these as fundamental questions to be addressed in the process of developing any new, safe and sustainable fishery. We agree that surveys would be required to assess the size and magnitude of razor clam populations along with further research on longer-term impacts of the gear.
11. We are committed to promoting the use of environmentally friendly fishing methods and reducing waste (by-catch). Having considered the consultation responses, we remain of the view that the viability of a commercial electrofishery for razor clams in Scotland should be further examined.
Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries ( STECF)
12. Following a request to the European Commission, STECF recently provided advice on the findings of the scientific evidence  that suggests electrofishing is likely to be more environmentally benign than some other traditional methods, such as dredging. STECF's general response was that a careful and staged development of any fishery was desirable, building up information and developing a management plan over time to ensure that the fishery could be operated sustainably. The Committee suggested that future work should be tailored to the specific conditions in the areas where razor clams are found.
Conclusion and next steps
13. Based on the above, it is our intention to seek to develop a limited trial razor clam electrofishery. The temporally and spatially limited trial will be a scientific investigation designed to gather further information about electrofishing. The Scottish Government will ensure that protected areas continue to be appropriately managed.
14. Preparatory work is under way, with vital input from other public sector stakeholders, to develop the trial and the conditions in which it will operate. In due course, the Government will confirm one or possibly two trial areas where, following initial stock assessments, a limited number of fishing vessels will be permitted to harvest razor clams by electrofishing. Catches reported by these vessels will provide local, real time information about razor clam catch rates and population structure, allowing the potential of the fishery to be investigated. All fishing boats not participating in the scientific trial will be prohibited from landing commercial levels of razor clams.
15. The Government reiterates its gratitude to those who responded to the consultation, and will continue to engage with stakeholders on its approach to Scotland's razor clam fishery.
Email: Access to Sea Fisheries