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MSPs urged to ban mechanical dredging for kelp

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Holyrood’s Environment Committee will consider the issue after more than 10,000 people signed a petition opposing the practice.

A Holyrood committee could vote to ban the mechanical harvesting of kelp, after more than 10,000 people backed a petition against the practice

Ailsa McLellan, an oyster farmer from Ullapool, started the petition after the first application for industrial scale dredging for the seaweed was submitted in Scotland.

The proposal, by Ayr-based firm Marine Biopolymers, could eventually see a reported 30,000 tonnes of the seaweed gathered each year off the country’s west coast by specially adapted boats.

Fishermen and environmental campaigners warned such a move could be destructive to not just the kelp beds, but many other fish and shellfish in the surrounding waters.

On Tuesday, Green MSP Mark Ruskell will ask Holyrood’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee to back a motion which would outlaw this mechanical dredging.

He will put forward an amendment to the Crown Estate Bill, which would only permit kelp harvesting where the plant can recover.

Ms McLennan, the founder of the No Kelp Dredging Facebook campaign, called for MSPs’ support to “put an end to the anxiety this application has caused across our coastal communities”.

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She insisted it would be “environmentally and economically disastrous” for Scotland if mechanical dredging for kelp was given the go ahead.

The campaigner said: “Our wild kelp beds are incredible assets that belong to all of us. Kelp plays a significant part in limiting climate change, locking up carbon and buffering the sea against increasing acidification.

“Kelp protects coastlines from the impact of waves and shifting sediment, which is important in areas such as Uist which face serious coastal erosion. Wild kelp forests support a wide range of species essential for coastal businesses, including fishing, wildlife tourism and aquaculture.

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“Existing businesses that harvest kelp do it responsibly and sustainably. The rules say that no kelp can be destroyed, that any bycatch of other species must be recorded, and that we must not alter the habitat. These are sensible rules, and they are obviously not compatible with mechanical dredging that tears kelp up by the roots.

“It would be environmentally and economically disastrous if this practice were to be allowed. I would urge MSPs from all parties to support this amendment next week and put an end to the anxiety this application has caused across our coastal communities.”

Dog fish in kelp
Kelp forests support a number of species (Andy Jackson/Subsea TV/PA)

SIFT executive director Charles Millar said: “The industrial dredging of Scotland’s kelp forests would seriously undermine the ability of our inshore waters to support a diverse, healthy population of marine species.

“In particular, our kelp forests play a crucial role as nursery habitats for numerous commercially-fished species, and removing large portions of this habitat would be detrimental to the already-fragile inshore fishing communities around our coastline.”

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