Scallop fishing is turning the seabed off Whitby into a “marine desert” the town’s local MP has warned.
Robert Goodwill, MP for Whitby, has taken up the fight of local charter skippers.
He is taking his concerns to Elizabeth Truss, the new secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs with a campaign to change the fishing restrictions off the Whitby coast.
He voiced his controversial thoughts after an emergency meeting in town last week with a group of local fishermen. They fear their livelihoods are at risk because of the surge in the visiting scalloping industry which they claim is ripping up the sea bed.
Mr Goodwill told the Gazette: “The Yorkshire coast is under attack and the ecosystem is being destroyed.
“Damage is being done to the shellfish and scallop industry, and the impact on the local fishing community could be irreparable.”
Over recent years there has been an increase in the number of boats from other parts of the country - from as far as Brixham to Scotland - visiting Whitby waters to tap into the resources of scallops and to avoid fishing restrictions which are in place in other parts of the country but not along the Yorkshire coast.
But the way they catch the product, effectively by dredging, is damaging the seabed. the food sources and natural habitat upon which other fish, particularly white fish are supposed to thrive.
The local skippers say the stocks of white fish as a result are on the decline which in turn is having a knock on effect on the charter skippers who run commercial fishing trips and competitions.
It is also having an effect on stocks of crab and lobsters and trawler fishermen, who fish to supply the town’s restaurants and seafood shops, will also begin to suffer as a result.
Following the meeting Mr Goodwill agreed to take the case to Ms Truss and also George Eustice, a member of the Downing Street Policy Board looking at energy and the environment, food and rural affairs.
He is requesting that a six mile buffer zone be put in place for bigger boats which would be in line with other sections of the east coast.
Mr Goodwill added: “I’ve spoken to divers who have witnessed the destruction by scallop dredging. The reason visiting scallopers are coming here is that they are not allowed to fish in their local waters due to the damaging effects of their fishing techniques.”
Whitby’s charter skippers said the scallopers might as well “drop a bomb” for all the concern they have about the environment.
They said: “For short returns they have no concern for the marine environment. It’s like dropping a bomb, the fish, scallops, lobsters and crabs will have gone.
“If they continue to carry on this way for another winter,businesses such as the charter boats and other shellfish operators could suffer dramatic consequences.
“Charter boats play a big part in the local economy and people come here from around the country to compete in fishing festivals. They stay in local hotels and eat in our restaurants.
“We desperately need a six mile limit which would mean that these boats don’t damage our reefs. For years they have developed and flourished due to local fishermen ensuring they are sustainable. We need to bring in a by law urgently to save our sustainable angling fleet before its too late.”