Electrofishing trial extended in Scotland 

12-month extension for research into economic opportunities and environmental impacts of electrofishing for razor clams 

Razor clams are a delicacy in many parts of the world, especially in markets in the Far East. Exports of razor clams fished from the waters off Scotland were worth some £6.1m in the year ending January 31, 2022. Given the demand, there’s a great deal of interest in the way they are fished, and the effects this has the environment. 

Photo by Alex Proimos

‘Electrofishing’ is a method in which inshore fishing vessels slow down and gently pull electrodes over the sea bead, drawing out razor clams from the shallow sand, which can then be collected by sand. Such methods are specifically banned throughout the EU (under Article 7 of Technical Conservation Regulation (EU) 2019/1241). What’s more, the fishing and landing of razor clams is also banned in Scotland (under The Razor Clams (Prohibition on Fishing and Landing)(Scotland) Order 2017 2017/419). 

Yet the latter includes an exemption, allowing such operations to continue, when ‘under the authority of the Scottish Ministers,’ and if ‘conducted for the purpose of scientific investigation’. 

That may sound like a useful get-out, but some evidence suggests that electrofishing can produce a high-quality catch with a lower impact on the marine environment than methods such as dredging. It’s also been suggested that electrofishing does not have an immediate or short-term lethal effect on species exposed to electricity. 

Since 2018, scientific investigation has been under way at 10 sites along the Scottish coast to look into this more fully. The trial is conducted by the Scottish government, the Health and Safety Executive and Food Standards Scotland. Those vessels authorised to take part in the trial must abide by strict terms and conditions, such as limits on where they fish. Remote electronic monitoring (REM) ensures vessels comply with the rules and that the marine environment is protected. 

The five-year trial was due to conclude on January 31, 2024, but it has now been extended by a year to 2025. 

Gillian Martin, Minister for Energy and the Environment, says: ‘This unique and innovative trial brings together fishers, scientists, policy-makers and academia to carefully explore the opportunity of diversifying inshore fishing through technology innovation. 

‘Our Blue Economy Vision is to be a global leader in supplying sustainably sourced and high-quality seafood at home and abroad. While there is significant potential for positive economic benefit to coastal communities from a carefully regulated and managed electro-fishery for razor clams, there are legitimate concerns over the use of electricity in fishing. We aim to address this through the remainder of the trial.’

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