Proposals have been put forward for the closure of the Fal and Helford Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

Fisheries Minister Jonathan Shaw took the decision to protect it against the damaging effects of scallop dredging.

Defra is now inviting views on the consequences of the intended closure of the SAC to scallop dredging and other bottom trawling.

Cornwall Sea Fisheries Committee and Defra have also unveiled plans to establish the SAC as an Experimental Marine Protected Area to better manage scallop stocks within the SAC and to investigate whether there may be benefits to scallop populations and fisheries outside the SAC.

A Defra-funded baseline survey of scallop stocks is being carried out by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science.

A spokesman said that the decision to close the Fal and Helford Special Area of Conservation (SAC) to scallop dredging provided an opportunity for the Cornwall Sea Fisheries Committee (SFC) to consider additional steps that would contribute to the management of scallop stocks within the SAC and the adjacent area.

The SFC would be exploring the benefits of turning the outer SAC area into an experimental Marine Protected Area (MPA) for the purposes of managing the scallop stocks within it. In order to assess the effects of creating the experimental MPA, studies would look at changes in the scallop stocks in the SAC, and the potential for the protected stock to enhance the sustainability of scallop fisheries outside the SAC due to spawning spillover effects.

As a preliminary piece of work, the Cornwall Sea Fisheries Committee is collaborating with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) to carry out a survey of the SAC area in order to gather baseline data on the state of the scallop stocks both inside the SAC and in selected areas outside it. This preliminary survey will be conducted within the next few months.

In order to manage the scallop stocks through the establishment of the experimental MPA, it will be necessary to prohibit scallop extraction in the experimental MPA by any method, including by diving.

Members of the Committee will consider and debate a draft byelaw for this purpose at a future meeting. The closure of the SAC to scallop dredging by Statutory Instrument as proposed by Defra will only provide protection to the SAC features designated under the Habitats Directive.

The Fal and Helford SAC was identified as a candidate SAC in 1996 under the Habitats Directive and has subsequently been designated for a number of habitats and features. These include sandbanks and maerl bed communities.

The Fal and Helford SAC has been infrequently fished by scallop dredgers for over 35 years, mainly during periods of bad weather.

The SAC is currently protected by a voluntary arrangement, under which local scallop fishermen agreed not to fish in the SAC for ten months of the year n November and December they were able to fish for 15 days each a month in selected areas only, these areas amounted to under 30% of the outer SAC. This agreement was reached after considerable efforts by the Sea Fisheries Committee and scallop fishermen who have engaged constructively to find a voluntary solution to a difficult problem. However, basic survey work carried out in 2007 reinforced Natural England's advice to Defra that all scallop dredging should be banned throughout the year in order to effectively protect the features within the SAC.