On 31 October, the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths AM, announced that she has decided to proceed with a new flexible permit scheme for the scallop fishery in Cardigan Bay. This decision follows a 12 week public consultation earlier this year. This new system will not come into immediate effect and a statutory instrument will be developed for the next scallop season starting in November 2017. Therefore, the current season that started on 1 November will continue with the existing permit system.
Under the proposed new plans, a flexible permit scheme with new guidance would be introduced that would enable the Welsh Government to manage the fishery. The new permits will enable the government to restrict scallop fishing activities, through mechanisms such as limiting quota and the gear used, the permits could be suspended or altered if necessary. The proposals would establish a management advisory board made up of representatives of industry, environmental groups and scientific advisors to help the Welsh Government set appropriate permit levels, the Wildlife Trusts hope to be involved in this process.
Cardigan Bay is protected under law and designated as a Special Area of Conservation because of its internationally important population of Bottlenose dolphins. The Bay also has two other potential protection designations pending, a Special Protection Area for non-breeding Red-throated diver and a Special Protection Area for Harbour porpoise both of which are internationally important. Welsh Government state that prior to any fishing activity an assessment, known as Habitats Regulations Assessment will be undertaken each year, based on the permit conditions applied to ensure that the fishery will not have an adverse impact on these protected areas. However, we have concerns that there is little to no evidence of how the activity affects one of the main features of the site, the bottlenose dolphins.
There are concerns that the new permitting system will enable other areas of the protected site to be opened up to scallop fishing on a rotational basis. There are also concerns about the process of the consultation and the fact that the fisheries are being considered in isolation and that using the previously dredged area of seabed as a baseline is adequate justification for permitting further damaging activity. The sustainability of the other aspects of the site, other than the economics of the fishery, such as the wider marine ecosystem, social and other economic activities that rely on the protected site, have been overlooked.