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Electrofishing for Razor Clams

Razor clams, also known as razor fish or "spoots", are common molluscs found burrowed in sandy inter-tidal and sub-tidal areas throughout Europe. In Scottish waters there are two commercially important species: Ensis arcuatus, known as “bendies” and the larger pod razor Ensis siliqua.

Since 1 February 2018, fishing for razor clams in Scottish waters and the landing of razor clams in Scotland has been prohibited except in two specified situations:

  1. for scientific investigation authorised by Scottish Ministers; and,
  2. for the traditional hand gathering of razor clams from the shore, a person carrying out such harvesting is allowed to take up to 30 razor clams per day.

The legislation (Scottish Statutory Instrument 2017/419) has helped to combat historical illegal practices in the commercial razor clam fishery.  It has removed the complexities of enforcing the EU prohibition on electrofishing, where Fishery Officers and Marine Protection Vessels had to catch vessels ‘in the act’ with gear deployed. 

‘Electrofishing’ for razor clams involves probes being pulled slowly over the sea bed from an inshore fishing vessel, this causes the clams to emerge from their burrows and they are collected by divers.  Research has shown that the methodology is highly selective, produces high quality product with zero bycatch and is less intrusive than traditional methods like dredging (further details below).  The legislation also therefore supports a scientific trial designed to further our knowledge of the electrofishing method and explore the potential of a commercial razor clam electro-fishery within sustainable limits.  

Scientific Study of Electrofishing

Alongside previous activity to deter and combat illegal fishing, the Scottish Government was also considering whether electrofishing for razors can in fact be conducted safely and sustainably - a matter that has been in dispute for some time, and not just within Scotland.  It is a very efficient method of harvesting razor clams, and therefore – if uncontrolled – there is a risk that stock will be over-exploited.

In 2014 Marine Scotland Science published a report “Electrofishing for Razor Clams: Effects on Survival and Recovery of Target and Non-target Species”. The research, both field and laboratory-based, concluded that electrofishing for razor clams does not have immediate or short-term lethal effects or prolonged behavioural effects on other marine life (vertebrate or invertebrate species) exposed to the electric field generated. The report also concluded that electrofishing is likely to be less environmentally damaging than some other traditional methods, such as dredging. The study looked at the short and not long-term effects of the method, and did not assess stocks nor consider appropriate harvesting levels.

Consultation on Electrofishing

In light of this scientific evidence, the Scottish Government launched a 2016 public consultation seeking views on whether electrofishing should in future be a permitted method for catching razor clams.  The consultation document, published consultation responses (subject to permission), consultation analysis and the Government’s response are all available online.

On 3 April 2017, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing MSP, announced that the Government will authorise a limited trial electrofishery for razor clams. The trial provides an opportunity to address matters raised in the consultation and gather further information about electrofishing.  Further information on the trial is available online.