A HIGH-powered meeting to discuss ways of tackling illegal cockling in the Solway Firth has resulted in an agreement to introduce new powers protecting the diminishing stocks.
The summit in Dumfries was called by Scottish Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead after local concern was raised about illegal pickers using the Fleet Bay area in the dead of night, despite a ban in the are.
Police have been powerless to effectively address the issue as the foreshore is managed by Marine Scotland, and not police.
After attending the meeting, Galloway and West Dumfries MSP Alex Fergusson said he was heartened by the outcome.
He said: “I must firstly applaud the actions of the Scottish Government in facilitating this meeting which, at long last, brought together all the agencies with a role to play in the enforcement of illegal cockling.
“From the opening discussions, it appears only too obvious that several of these agencies have not been talking to each other sufficiently, with the result that some of the enforcement measures that are available are simply not followed up.
“If nothing else, I hope that today’s meeting will bring about a determination amongst these agencies to use the powers that already exist to the maximum in order to protect the cockle stocks that currently exist on the Solway.
“I was pleased to learn that more effective powers will be introduced within the Aquaculture and Fisheries Bill that is about to be introduced to the Scottish Parliament, and I will be monitoring the proposals that the Government introduces to ensure that they are as effective as possible within the scope of the bill.
“It is vitally important that existing stocks are fully protected in order to allow a legal fishery to re-open – one that is locally managed to the benefit of local employment and the local economy.”
Mr Lochhead added: “A number of options are now being considered to ensure that the existing ban can be upheld and local disturbances removed.
“A strategy will be prepared to allow all public bodies with an interest in the issue to work more closely together, including sharing intelligence.
“Proposals are being considered on additional enforcement powers, as well as changes to how existing offences are specified that could make them easier to enforce.
“I would like to thank all interested parties for attending the meeting.
“Marine Scotland will shortly circulate a report of the meeting to all attendees and I look forward to appropriate measures being implemented that will help to resolve this issue as soon as possible.”