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Shetland leads the way, says chef

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall says Shetland's inshore fishery sets an example. Photo Channel4

CONTROVERSIAL celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall has endorsed Shetland’s eco-label scallop dredging model as an example for others to follow.

The self-styled campaigner of ‘Hugh’s Fish Fight’ fame has been picking a fight with the UK scallop dredging industry during a three part series broadcast by Channel4.

Fearnley Whittingstall told Shetland News that the Scottish government should follow Shetland’s lead when its starts consulting on creating up to 33 marine protected areas later this year.

Last month’s fish fight programme came under stinging attack from the Scottish fishing industry, who described its portrayal of scallop dredging as “imbalanced and distorted”.

The Shetland shellfish boat Kestrel. Photo SSMO

“Scalloping only utilises a very small part of the seabed with vessels consistently fishing the same areas decade after decade,” Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong said.

“To imply that the scallop sector causes wide scale damage is both disingenuous and disproportionate.”

But Fearnley Whittingstall said it was right to “shine a light” on such fishing methods to raise the profile of his campaign to designate 127 marine conservation zones in English waters rather than the 31 currently being considered.

“Scotland is implementing a new network of marine protected areas right now – so it’s the perfect time to be debating these issues,” he said.

“I’ve also been criticised for not giving enough attention to the recovery of fish stocks in the North Sea. It’s great news that these stocks are rebuilding, but that’s not the whole story.

“In the Irish Sea and the west of Scotland – where scallop dredging is particularly prevalent – scientists still advise we should avoid catching any cod if we can help it, because the stocks are still so poor.”

He added that Shetland had implemented an intelligent system with specially licensed vessels, voluntarily closed areas and strict monitoring, demonstrating that even scallop dredging can be done in an eco-friendly way.

Last year the Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation received Marine Stewardship Council accreditation for the fishery.

Shetland’s inshore fishermen were given local control when Scotland’s first regulating order was granted in 2001.

“There’s other parts of Scotland where there is much greater conflict between different methods of fishing, and I’ve heard concerns from ordinary people who see dredgers very close to shore near their homes.

“Hopefully Scotland’s new network of MPAs – which we should hear more about in the next few months – will follow Shetland’s lead,” Fearnley Whittingstall said.

Writing in a recent blog, Clair Pescod, the Marine Stewardship Council’s UK fisheries outreach manager added that Shetland was indeed leading the way in UK fisheries.

“In theory, there is no reason why other scallop dredge fisheries with similar controls, spatial management and protection of delicate areas shouldn’t follow in their footsteps,” she wrote.