A proposal to harvest wild kelp from the waters of the Minch using a mechanised dredger is causing increasing concern among island seafood businesses.
Southampton-based Marine Biopolymers Ltd (MBL) have submitted a preliminary marine licence request to the Licensing Operations Team (LOT) of Marine Scotland, the Scottish Government agency responsible for the management of Scotland’s seas.
Marine Scotland has asked for responses from interested parties by this Saturday (August 25th), but are promising further consultation when a marine licence application and supporting environmental report are submitted.
But campaigners want the door slammed shut on the application, which they say will harm the sea environment beyond repair and have a devastating effect on the marine eco-system which supports seafood and seaweed harvesting and wild fish stocks.
Lewis seafood harvester Lewis Mackenzie of Hebridean Wildfoods Ltd said: “There is a lot of concern locally about this proposal and the possible impacts on existing fisheries.
"From my perspective, there is a real threat as the sustainable harvesting of red dulse and sea urchins relies on both these species co-existing with the kelp.”
MBL have submitted a preliminary scoping report to Marine Scotland which describes the harvesting method as sustainable, and explains in detail the processes by which they would ensure potential regeneration of the kelp forest. A specially designed dredge would ‘bounce’ along the seabed, pulling kelp plants up in strips and leaving the bare strip to regenerate.
Kelp is used to produce a substance called alginate, which is used in cosmetics and cleaning products as well as foodstuffs. MBL say the new process would create 32 jobs at a processing plant at Mallaig and a further 10 jobs on board the harvesting vessels.
But campaigner Ailsa McLellan of Leckmelm near Ullapool says an equal number of jobs could be created without damage to the kelp forests, by creating kelp farms instead.
Ailsa in a marine scientist who runs an inshore fisheries business with her husband and who also has a licence from the Crown Estate to harvest seaweed by hand.
She said: “When I cut kelp I must cut well up into the fronds to allow the seaweed to regenerate. How they can come in and haul it up by the roots is beyond me. Kelp plants live for 17 years or more and the habitat we have off the west coast of Scotland is virgin – it has literally been there forever.
“It’s one of the most biologically diverse landscapes on the planet, a carbon captor and one of the last things between us and climate change. It protects coasts from erosion by absorbing wave energy and creates a habitat for invertebrates and fish.
“There is no question that removing kelp will remove many invertebrates and the myriad species of birds, fish and mammals that rely on them. Work in Norway found that some juvenile fish species such as saithe and pollock disappeared from newly-harvested areas. The kelp is a vital feeding ground for these fish that are already pushed to the edge.”
Ailsa has started a social media campaign and is urging anyone who works in the sector or who is concerned about the environment to write to Marine Scotland expressing their objection to the proposal.
She said: “How can anybody think it’s clever to remove kelp from our seascape? The only people to benefit from this proposal are Marine Biopolymers and if this licence is granted we are opening a door that we will never be able to shut again.
The scoping report by Marine Biopolymers Ltd is at http://marine.gov.scot/sites/default/files/r3007_wild_seaweed_harvesting_scoping_report_17july2018lr_0.pdf
You can find the campaign page Stop Mechanical Kelp Dredging at https://www.facebook.com/nokelpdredging/
Pictures show a kelp forest off the west coast of Scotland, taken by Noel Hawkins, the equipment used by licenced hand-harvesters to cut kelp, and the proposed method in the application.