Large numbers of protected shellfish have been illegally poached in the North West Highlands.
The illegal opening of several dozen pearl mussels is believed to have taken place in Loch Assynt over the past two months, caused by opportunists acting on the off chance of finding a rare pearl. In order to identify if a pearl is present a freshwater pearl mussel must be opened, which kills the endangered species.
In an online plea for help, Assynt Field Club urged anybody with any information to come forward with information to Police Scotland’s Wildlife Crime Officer on 101, or if they are witness to illegal poaching taking place, to dial police immediately on 999.
Poaching of freshwater pearl mussels can have serious implications with the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) warning previously of potential extinction of the sea creature.
Iain Sime, a freshwater specialist for SNH, said: “Scotland holds some of the world’s largest remaining populations of this critically endangered species. Pearl mussels live on the river bed and feed by drawing in water and filtering out fine particles keeping our rivers clean.
“They are an important species ecologically as they keep water clean for other river wildlife like salmon and trout. Salmon and trout fishing is worth millions to the Scottish economy, so it makes sense to keep our ‘river purifiers’ fit and healthy for future generations.”
Pearl mussels are key to local ecosystems and can live for over 100 years, with very few ever possessing a pearl.