Fishing ban aims to save Scottish reef
By Vanessa Houlder
21st August 2003
An emergency fishing ban is to be introduced to protect the Darwin Mounds, the cold water coral reef off the north coast of Scotland, the government said yesterday.
The ban, agreed by the European Commission, will protect the fragile corals from further damage by the towed fishing gear used by deep-water vessels.
WWF, the conservation group, said it was delighted the mounds were finally receiving protection.
Alison Champion, marine protection officer for WWF-UK, said: "This lifeline is fantastic news and must be followed by a permanent solution . . . or we risk losing the Darwin Mounds forever."
The mounds, named after the Charles Darwin research vessel, consist of five metre-high "sand volcanoes" with living corals - typically lophelia pertusa - at their summits. They cover an area of 100 sq km and support marine life ranging from sponges, starfish, sea urchins and crabs to deep-sea fish such as the blue ling, round-nosed grenadier and orange roughy.
A survey in 2000 revealed smashed coral strewn on the seabed and linear channels cut into the reefs by fishing trawlers.
A report last year by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee concluded that the Darwin Mounds faced an "imminent and current threat".
The Commission, which gave the go-ahead for a six-month ban, has promised to develop permanent measures to protect the area.
Earlier this month the UK government said it would take steps to designate the Darwin Mounds as a special area of conservation.
The fishing ban has been introduced under the revised common fisheries policy. Ben Bradshaw, fisheries minister, said the decision showed the policy "can be used for the benefit of the wider marine ecosystem".