A wildlife charity has renewed calls for laws protecting scallops at Lyme Bay off the Dorset and Devon coast after a dredging ban was rejected.
A ban on scallop dredging in Lyme Bay is rejected
Dorset Wildlife Trust fears the reefs will be destroyed but Dorset County Council voted against a new "draconian" bylaw banning the practice.
They also vetoed banning towed equipment in a 60-square mile exclusion zone during a meeting on Wednesday.
Defra is examining the impact scallops dredging has on marine life in the Bay.
A ban - proposed by Defra and under consultation until 21 December - already had the support Devon County Council.
But Dorset County Council cabinet members instead opted to continue with a voluntary agreement - in place for 18 months - between Defra and the South West Inshore Scallopers Association to stop fishing in four areas of Lyme Bay.
Peter Tinsley, marine conservation officer for Dorset Wildlife Trust, called the decision "disappointing", adding: "Economic arguments will always override voluntary agreements so we want statutory protection."
The voluntary agreement protects 20% of the reef.
Mr Tinsley added: "Outside that area there is habitat worth protecting and it is being eroded away by the current activity.
"The rock that forms the reef is quite soft because of local geology so in time there will be no more reef."
He said the bay has been assessed by Natural England as one of the top five marine biodiversity sites in England.
Natural England will submit that Lyme Bay is top of its list for marine habitat when it announces special areas of conservation next year.
"It would be a tragedy if it disappeared," Mr Tinsley said.
Moves to protect the bay were rejected over fears about the impact on fishermen and the difficulties in policing the ban.
Colonel Geoffrey Brierley, cabinet member for strategic planning and transportation, said the bylaw was "far too draconian" and "will be difficult to police".
He revealed at the meeting that only one scalloper had gone into the controlled area in the last 18 months under the voluntary agreement.
A decision by Defra on the future of scallop fishing in the bay is expected next year.