Scallop numbers soar in Scottish marine reserve

Scallops are among the species to have benefited from protection afforded by Lamlash Bay No-Take Zone, according to research published this month in scientific journal Marine Biology.

Lamlash Bay is situated on the east coast of the Isle of Arran in Scotland’s Firth of Clyde. Once home to some of Europe’s most productive fishing grounds, today this ecosystem bears all the signs of overfishing, with the majority of commercial finfish stocks gone.

Lamlash Bay No-Take Zone was established in 2008 after more than a decade of campaigning by members of local organisation, Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST), who wanted to see the area restored to its former glory. Closed to all forms of fishing, the no-take zone was not only the first of its kind in Scotland, but also the first to have been successfully established as a result of community action.

Lamlash Bay marine reserve with Holy Island in the background. Credit: Bryce Stewart.

The beautiful Lamlash Bay marine reserve. Credit: Bryce Stewart.

The research, carried out by University of York researcher Dr Leigh Howarth with support from Fauna & Flora International (FFI), found a greater abundance of juvenile scallops inside the reserve than outside, while adult scallops within the reserve were revealed to be larger and more fertile.

“We found strong evidence that protecting Lamlash Bay from fishing has allowed seaweeds, hydroids and other organisms on the seafloor to recover,” explained Dr Howarth. “These act as a magnet for settling juvenile scallops which seek out these habitats for shelter while they mature to adulthood.”

Real protection for marine reserves

The re-establishment of bottom habitats and the associated recovery of scallops is good news for both conservationists and local fishers. Mounting evidence from around the world indicates that no-take zones can benefit fisheries as eggs and larvae (from the abundant marine life within a reserve) are carried by water currents into surrounding areas.

Maerl seaweed, juvenile cod & anemones inside the reserve. Credit: Howard Wood.

The recovery of seabed habitats within the reserve has allowed young cod and other species to thrive. Credit: Howard Wood.

To ensure that the benefits to fishers are felt, however, COAST and its supporters realised that a wider protected area was needed in adjacent waters to ensure the recovery of seabed nursery habitats.

Dredge tracks on the seabed outside the reserve. Credit: Howard Wood.`

By comparison, the seabed outside the reserve bears the scars of dredging and trawling. Credit: Howard Wood.

Following yet another successful campaign, the South Arran Marine Protected Area was formally declared by the Scottish Government in July 2014. While this is a positive step, the management measures currently proposed by the government would allow scallop dredging to continue over many fragile habitats within the protected area, undermining its potential.

Throughout the designation process, COAST and the Arran community have advocated the complete exclusion of scallop dredgers and bottom trawlers from the MPA in favour of more sustainable fishing methods such as scallop diving and creeling.

According to Dr Bryce Stewart, who supervised the research: “Scallop fisheries are ideally suited to management using protected areas. This approach can protect sensitive habitats, which also act as nursery grounds for scallops and other species, while boosting the overall productivity of the fisheries.”

COAST continues to campaign for the exclusion of damaging fishing methods from the South Arran Marine Protected Area, and FFI remains committed to supporting this important cause.