THE SHETLAND Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO) has welcomed a decision from independent adjudicators to renew the sustainable status of the isles' scallop fishery.
Inshore coordinator Carole Laignel said that consumers can "continue to purchase Shetland scallops secure in the knowledge they are harvested in a responsible and sustainable manner".
But Open Seas, which campaigns for more sustainable seafood and had lodged an objection to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) accreditation, said it "strongly disagreed" with the ruling and said a debate now needs to take place on "whether sustainable dredging has a place in fragile inshore habitats".
SSMO had previously accused Open Seas of starting a "smear campaign" after it rejected plans to give Shetland king scallops and brown crab the blue eco label accreditation for another five years. It was first awarded in 2012.
It said that the dredging of scallops was harmful to the the seabed and its ecology.
But SSMO strongly denied the claims and said that the scallop fishery was "very well managed and sustainable" as a result of collaboration between fishermen, scientists and the government.
Independent adjudicator Eldon Greenberg said in a report that the "scale and intensity of the fishery are so limited compared to the size of the relevant habit, no matter how defined, that it is difficult to conclude that the impact of scallop dredging would be large enough to cause serious or irreversible harm to habitat structure and function".
Speaking after the ruling was passed on Wednesday following a hearing in London in May, Laignel said:
"Firstly, we are naturally pleased that the sustainable nature of this fishery has been recognised by the award of MSC status for the second time.
"We have worked extremely hard, supported by scientists from the NAFC Marine Centre, to ensure that the supply of high-quality scallops for which Shetland is renowned can continue for generations to come.
"This is a unique, well-regulated and well-managed fishery which has a minimal impact on the marine environment around these islands that we all treasure."
Open Seas head of policy and operations Phil Taylor commented: "The fundamental point here is that scallop dredging is a highly damaging form of fishing, and is now being certified by the MSC despite the fact that scallops will continue being dredged from protected areas and areas of vulnerable seabed.
"This decision points to a systemic problem for the MSC. Retailers are using this eco label to cloak their sourcing of environmentally damaging products and consumers are getting wise to it."
The decision to re-certify the fisheries was originally passed in January, but the objection sparked the six-month review process.