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Protection for Darwin Mounds

20/08/2003

The European Commission has decided to give emergency protection to an area of cold water coral off the north west coast of Scotland known as the Darwin Mounds.

The EC regulation will ban damaging fishing activity in the area - identified by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee as a possibly unique collection of cold-water coral mounds on a sand base.

Enviornment Minister Ross Finnie backed the move. He said:

'It is very good news that the Commission has accepted the case for protection of the Darwin Mounds. We now have measures in place offering immediate protection for this important habitat, which we know has been under threat from bottom trawling fishing activities.

"The Scottish Executive is committed to integrating environmental protection into fisheries policy. This Regulation demonstrates how the revised Common Fisheries Policy can be used to support the welfare of the whole marine ecosystem, as well as securing sustainable fishing opportunities."

The Darwin Mounds are found in deep waters about 180km off the north west coast of Scotland. Surveys of the area have shown that the reefs are vulnerable to damage from types of towed fishing gear which make contact with the seabed.

Under the EC Habitats Directive, Member States are required to take action to protect deep water coral reefs. The UK is also taking steps to designate the Darwin Mounds as a candidate Special Area of Conservation under the EC Habitats Directive. This will ensure that the area is managed to prevent damage to the habitat from any activity taking place in the area.

The EC regulation will be published in the Official Journal and will prohibit the use of bottom trawls or similar towed nets operating in contact with the bottom of the sea in the following area:

Latitude 59° 54' N longitude 7° 39' W

Latitude 59° 54' N longitude 6° 47' W

Latitude 59° 37' N longitude 6° 47' W

Latitude 59° 37' N longitude 7° 39' W

The EC action comes in response to a formal request from the UK for the introduction of emergency measures under the revised CFP framework regulation, which came into effect on January 1 this year.

The measures will be in operation for six months and may be extended for a further six month period. In the meantime, the Commission will bring forward permanent measures to protect the area.

The Darwin Mounds area is generally used for fishing for deep water species. Vessels from several Member States fish within the area, including some UK vessels. A variety of fishing gears are used, not all of which are towed along the ground and damage the coral. This Regulation applies to all EU vessels but only to the types of fishing gears specified in point (1).

A UK-wide consultation on regulations to extend the application of the Habitats Directive to offshore marine sites between 12 and 200 nautical miles was launched on August 6.

Once in place, these regulations will provide the legal basis for designating sites such as the Darwin Mounds as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs).