Marine Scotland has launched a consultation on making permanent the Red Rocks and Longay MPA to protect the eggs of the endangered flapper skate
Marine Scotland has launched a consultation on making permanent the Red Rocks and Longay marine protected area (MPA) that has been put in place to protect the eggs of the highly endangered flapper skate.
Flapper skate (Dipturus intermedius) was historically abundant in the north-east Atlantic and widely distributed in the seas surrounding the British Isles, however its range has reduced significantly and catch rates declined throughout the 20th century. It now only occurs in the northern North Sea, off Northern Ireland’s north-east coast and off Scotland’s north-west coast. Part of the common skate complex (along with blue skate), they are on the OSPAR Threatened and/or Declining Species and Habitats List and the list of Priority Marine Features. Furthermore, they are considered ‘Critically Endangered’ globally and in European waters by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Dive surveys by members of the public identified over 100 flapper skate eggs in the Inner Sound of Skye in 2020 following their initial identification by commercial scallop divers. Marine Scotland obtained advice from NatureScot to understand the conservation requirements of the flapper skate eggs, and input from stakeholders to understand areas of economic importance and views about the extent of the site boundary, and designated an MPA urgently in March 2021.
Following further surveys to gather evidence for the permanent site in August and September 2021, a significant number of flapper skate eggs were discovered north of the original site. Scottish Ministers determined there was a need to urgently extend the boundary of the urgently designated Red Rocks and Longay MPA in the interim. The MPA was extended in December 2021.
Marine Scotland has now launched a proposal to make the MPA permanent as an ‘urgently designated MPA’ can only be in place for a maximum of two years.
In line with the advice from NatureScot, the management measures being proposed for the Red Rocks and Longay permanent MPA in the draft MCO would prohibit the following activities:
- Fishing – dredging;
- Fishing – creels;
- Fishing – demersal trawling or seine;
- Fishing – gill/trammel nets;
- Recreational sea angling;
- Marine deposit sites/waste disposal;
- Marine infrastructure; and
NatureScot have advised consideration of limiting or reducing creeling within the site, however they have been unable to provide any advice on an acceptable level of creel fishing that could be permitted without compromising the site conservation objectives. Therefore, Marine Scotland is proposing to prohibit this activity in line with the management measures currently in place for the urgent MPA.
NatureScot have also advised that diving (both recreational and commercial) are activities that are considered not likely to affect the proposed protected features (other than insignificantly) we are therefore not proposing to prohibit these activities in the permanent site. These prohibitions will also be removed from the urgent MCO as soon as reasonably practicable.
Although NatureScot advise recreational and commercial diving aren’t likely to significantly affect the protected feature, flapper skate, on a look but don’t touch basis, they have advised diving for scientific survey should be reduced or limited due to the potential interaction with flapper skate or their eggs. Scientific survey which involves touching or taking of eggs will still be captured by the proposed provisions to prohibit the killing, taking, destruction, molestation, touching or disturbance of flapper skate or the eggs of flapper skate.
Therefore, it is proposed that individual wishing to undertake scientific survey operations (including citizen science) will need to apply for a permit under the provisions of the MCO, which will allow an assessment of the risks of each survey. This will allow limitation of diving for scientific survey within the site in line with advice from NatureScot.
Fishing vessel access to the MPA
Fishing vessel licence conditions have been amended to incorporate restrictions within the MPA. A fishing vessel must not be present within the MPA other than when travelling at a speed of greater than six knots (except in the case of force majeure, adverse weather conditions or fishing for pelagic species with trawl or encircling nets).
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