During 2010 a set of 22 voluntary closed areas, distributed around Shetland, were proposed by local industry in order to help protect and conserve threatened habitats from potential physical disturbance from scallop dredging. Initially, closed areas were implemented on a precautionary basis over predicted beds of maerl and horse mussel (Modiolus modiolus) derived from historical data. Horse mussel and maerl beds are classed as priority habitats which have been identified as being threatened and requiring conservation under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP). Legalisation of the voluntarily adopted closed areas occurred in 2011. Detailed surveys were conducted to map each closed area with specific reference to the defining features located within. Closed areas were surveyed using a hull mounted multibeam system and ground-truthed with an underwater camera system. Information was imported to a Geographic Information System (GIS) in order to create georeferenced habitat maps of the two species of interest. The appropriateness of each closed area was assessed and a proposed methodology and procedure outlined for any future closed areas. The primary aim was to provide information on which to test the validity of initial closed area boundaries and subsequently allow managers to refine and add to them in the future. The survey illustrated the need to have good quality acoustic and visual survey work undertaken whenever areas have been closed based on historical data and/or predicted habitats. Predicted beds were not found to be representative of the survey findings. The survey highlighted the lack of good quality, robust, accurate, and up to date species information for the waters around Shetland, especially with regard to priority marine features. Although some were neither fully protecting the UK BAP habitats they were designed to protect nor were protecting any UK BAP habitats, a degree of protection had been conferred to some priority features in the first iteration of implementation of closed areas. Survey data were subsequently used to legally alter the closed area boundaries to more appropriately reflect the distribution of priority features. Recommendations were made on appropriate procedures for defining a species bed and on the wider implications of the study’s findings for other fisheries areas developing spatial management plans.
- Multibeam acoustic habitat mapping
- Inshore fisheries management
- Species bed/biogenic reef definition
- Modiolus modiolus
- Marine Spatial Planning