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Monday, 10 February, 2003, 14:40 GMT
Fishing concern over coral zone
Darwin Mounds
The Darwin Mounds are under threat
The Scottish Fishermen's Federation (SFF) has reacted with surprise to the UK Government's plan to seek a "no fishing" zone to protect a coral field off the north coast of Scotland.

Fisheries Minister Elliot Morley will pursue new emergency powers to safeguard the Darwin Mounds in the north Atlantic.

But the SFF queried the legitimacy of a UK minister ruling on a Scottish matter.

Discovered in 1998, the Darwin Mounds are a collection of sandy and cold-water coral stacks 120 miles off mainland Britain, some 1,000m below the surface.

Hamish Morrison
Here we have a UK ministry issuing an exclusion order on an area which is part of the Scottish economic zone

Hamish Morrison
SFF

Concerns have been growing over the effects of deep-sea trawling on the rare habitat, and pressure has been mounting for the government to take action.

The area has been increasingly fished in recent years for species such as round-nosed grenadier and orange roughy by French and Irish fishermen.

A report last year by the conservation group WWF said damage was still being caused by nets, despite a government commitment to protect them.

'Protect eco-systems'

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed the minister would explore new provisions laid out in the Common Fisheries Policy on 1 January with EU colleagues.

A spokesman said: "The secretary of state made a commitment some time ago to protect this area and this is what we intend to do.

"The new provisions allow states to take action to protect eco-systems, where before action could only be taken to protect fisheries."

Elliot Morley
Elliot Morley: Coral concerns

But the SFF's Hamish Morrison said there had been no consultation with Scotland's fishing industry.

Mr Morrison said: "Here we have a UK ministry issuing an exclusion order on an area which is part of the Scottish economic zone.

"Without, as far as I can see, any consultation whatsoever with Scottish stakeholders, who are overwhelmingly the main players."

Professor Alasdair MacIntyre, of Aberdeen University, said heavy gear used by deep sea fishermen posed the "biggest threat" to the coral fields.

'Getting a balance'

He said: "I think we have got to find some means of protecting them (the Mounds) and we also need to think of not doing too much damage to the fishing industry.

"So it's a case of getting a balance between protecting the Mounds themselves and ensuring the fishing industry is able to continue in a reasonable way."

A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said the matter was reserved to Westminster.

The corals are an oasis of marine life, hosting species such as sponges, starfish, sea urchins, crabs and deep sea fish.

Compared to the barren seabed around them, the mounds have been likened to a tropical rain forest surrounded by desert.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Eric Crockart reports
"The Mounds are under threat from deep water trawler nets"
See also:

18 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
26 Feb 02 | Science/Nature
14 Feb 02 | Boston 2002
13 Feb 03 | Science/Nature
11 Sep 01 | Science/Nature
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