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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 was introduced to support a scientific trial of electrofishing for razor clams.  The trial is designed to further our knowledge of the electrofishing method and explore the potential of a commercial razor clam electro-fishery within sustainable limits.  The trial was authorised following public consultation and in light of scientific research which has shown that harvesting razor clams by the electrofishing method is highly selective, produces high quality product with zero bycatch and is less intrusive than traditional methods like dredging (further details below).

‘Electrofishing’ involves probes being pulled slowly over the sea bed from a fishing vessel.  The electric field elicits a response from the clams causing them to emerge from their burrows and divers following the probes collect the clams. 

Electrofishing is illegal under EU regulation made in 1998 (the Technical Conservation regime) with an exception that permits fishing with beam trawl using an electrical pulse current in a specific area of the southern North Sea.

Enforcement at sea of the EU electrofishing ban is very difficult because it requires Fishery Officers and Marine Protection Vessels to catch vessels ‘in the act’ with gear deployed.  In recent years, prior to the Scottish Statutory Instrument coming into force, despite a range of actions to deter and combat illegal electrofishing for razor clams, consistent intelligence suggested that all or almost all fishing for razor clams in Scotland involved illegal electrofishing. 

Scientific Study of Electrofishing

Alongside 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 and a European Commission proposal to replace the EU legislation that prohibits electrofishing, the Scottish Government launched a public consultation seeking views on whether electrofishing should in future be a permitted method for catching razor clams.

The consultation closed on 30 September 2016. 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.