A GOOD test of meaninglessness in bland government statements is to invert them. Thus, “We take our marine environment seriously” becomes “We do not take our marine environment seriously.” Of course, they take the marine environment seriously. It goes, as it were, without saying. However, in the case of the already destroyed flame shell reef in Loch Carron at least, the statement issued yesterday might have said: “We now take our marine environment seriously.”

Last month, it was revealed a scallop dredger had destroyed the reef in the sea loch near Plockton. The rage of conservationists was palpable. Pictures were painted of metal teeth ripping through fragile clam nests, destroying reefs that also nurtured crustaceans, young fish and scallop spat. A local marine biologist said starfish, squat lobsters, spider crabs and sea urchins had also been mangled in the dredging.

And, at the time, to the disbelief of the conservationists, this was legal. Now, at least, after an investigation by Scottish Natural Heritage, scallop dredging has been banned in the loch, initially for one year, under an urgent Marine Conservation Order.

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This is a welcome move, even if the chorus of “too little, too late” has been loud from critics, who describe the Scottish Government’s management of inshore waters as “prehistoric”. In denying being stuck in the stone age, the government adduces a rock and a hard place, assaying a balancing act between environmental protection and the need for “legitimate and sustainable fishing”.

The word “sustainable” is not the first that springs to mind when it comes to dredging. The reef could take decades to recover. It’s also far from clear damage caused by dredging is worth it for the profits of a small number of fishermen.

In the meantime, as the usual unflattering comparisons with Scandinavia are made, the Scottish Government needs to consider seriously fundamental reforms to the protection of Scotland’s inshore waters, including the possibility of a ban on dredging up to three miles from shore. And we mean “consider seriously”.