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Outer Hebrides fisheries management pilot reports successful first year

Wed, 2022-05-11 15:59

A locally-led fisheries management pilot for the Outer Hebrides is reporting positive impacts on fishing businesses and the environment in its first year, a new report reveals.

The Outer Hebrides Inshore Fisheries Pilot is co-managed by the Regional Inshore Fisheries Group (RIFG) and the Marine Scotland Directorate of the Scottish Government.  The Pilot limits the number of creels that commercial fishing vessels may deploy in the waters around the isles. The aim of this is to improve the management of shellfish stocks in area, enabling future generations to benefit from a resource that remains of vital importance to this island community.

The Pilot is also testing one possible approach to a low-cost vessel tracking solution for small inshore fishing vessels. This is being trialled aboard 40 vessels and builds on the Scottish Inshore Fisheries Integrated Data System (SIFIDS) project led by the University of St Andrews.

Fishers in the Outer Hebrides continue to express strong support for the Pilot and are observing positive impacts on their fishing businesses.

Donald MacLennan, a Skipper for the Valhalla based in Harris said:  

“It’s been a challenging time in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit and the Ukraine conflict, and the rising cost of fuel, creel and nephrops catches are particular concerns.

“However, in spite of these challenges, the first year of the Pilot has worked fewer creels and reduced time at sea, leading to a significant improvement in our gross income.

“I believe the Pilot proves that with creel fishing, less can be more.”

Duncan MacInnes, Secretary of the Western Isles Fisherman’s Association (WIFA), said:

“The Pilot has brought a sense of stability to the fleet, especially in relation to uncontrolled creel fishing.

“The initial success has been encouraging to the members of WIFA and we would like to see an extension of the initiative to cover a much larger area of the Western Isles.”

The Pilot will continue with vessel tracking until October 2022. An evaluation and qualitative assessment of the Pilot project will be conducted throughout 2022 to assess the social and economic impacts of the Pilot, and provide insights and recommendations into future projects.

Further information:





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Scottish fishing technology adopted as new global standard

Fri, 2022-04-29 14:34

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has agreed to adopt a new Scottish-designed fishing technology as the new international standard for co-ordinated demersal fish population surveys in the North Sea.

The Marine Scotland Directorate of the Scottish Government co-operated with international partners – the International Bottom Trawl Survey Working Group (IBTSWG) – to successfully develop this innovation, which assists in calculating accurate fish stock data, and feeds into the ICES fisheries monitoring and management process and supports the sustainable management of our seas.

The new fishing technology incorporates advances in net design and fishing technology gained over the decades.

Key design changes compared to the old system are:

Lemon Sole

Lemon Sole, a type of demersal fish thats caught using this method.

  • reduction in net mesh sizes (from 200mm to 100mm), and
  • new light ground gear.

Overall it provides a robust package which is more efficient, resilient and cost effective, as well as delivering consistent catches and better fish population estimates.

The new fish survey trawl package will replace the Grand Opening Vertical (GOV) survey model used since 1980, after it was recognised as no longer fit for purpose. A road map has been agreed to enable a smooth transition to the new technology, making sure there is no impact on surveyance of yearly fish stocks. It is hoped this transition will be completed within three years.

Further information:

  • Demersal fish are also known as ground fish and live on or near the bottom of the sea / lakes (the demersal zone). Examples include: Atlantic cod, herring, plaice and turbot.
  • ICES is an intergovernmental marine science organisation which meets to provide impartial evidence on marine research, and advise member nation governments and international regulatory commissions on the health of fish stocks and the sustainable use of the world’s seas and oceans.

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Progressing Scotland’s Leadership on Blue Carbon

Thu, 2022-04-21 15:07

The Scottish Government has launched the Blue Carbon International Policy Challenge (BCIPC) today (21 April 2022), with awards of up to £10,000 available for five successful projects that will establish blueprints for domestic and international climate action to support the marine ecosystem. Applications are open until 19 May 2022.

The challenge, which will run until the start of October 2022, aims to bring together private, public and third sector organisations from across the globe to increase our collective knowledge of blue carbon habitats, which play an important role in capturing and storing carbon, as well as for climate adaptation and biodiversity.

Each project will address a key question for blue carbon policy, helping to identify the opportunities and barriers to scale up ocean action, in Scotland and internationally.

Saltmarsh image credit Bill Austin

Credit: Professor William Austin

While Scotland is leading the UK on blue carbon research and our developing expertise is internationally recognised, more research is needed to inform our approach to protecting and restoring these important habitats, which include saltmarshes, seagrasses, kelp beds, biogenic reefs and more.

The Blue Carbon International Policy Challenge aims to fill gaps in our knowledge of blue carbon and provides a vital link between COP26 and COP27.

Minister for Environment and Land Reform, Mairi McAllan said:

“International collaborations, such as those that will be developed through the Blue Carbon International Policy Challenge, have a critical role to play in bringing people together to work towards a common goal, enabling exchange of knowledge and best practise and helping to accelerate action”

“We welcome applications from organisations around the world to enhance our shared understanding of blue carbon, tackle the challenges we are facing together and deliver on our COP27 blue carbon ambitions both in Scotland and beyond.”

Chair of the Scottish Blue Carbon Forum, Professor William Austin (University of St Andrews) said:

“I would like to commend the Minister and the Scottish Government on their post-COP26 commitments to blue carbon and particularly the support for international partnership working that has been announced today. The challenges to our oceans are global in nature and I am delighted that Scotland’s progress in developing a forward-looking blue carbon research and policy agenda can now be extended through this new initiative – we have much to learn and much to offer through such international partnership working.”

“This announcement will echo across the international community, many of whom joined us in Scotland during COP26. The announcement highlights our shared commitment to blue carbon nature-based solutions that can deliver for climate, people and biodiversity.”

Further guidance on how to apply, including eligibility criteria, can be found on the  Scottish Blue Carbon Forum website

Scotland's Blue Carbon graphic

Further information:

Feature image: Minister for Environment and Land Reform, Mairi McAllan. Crown copyright.

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Studying the critically endangered blue skate

Wed, 2022-03-16 11:15

Our understanding of the distribution, behaviour and biology of the critically endangered blue skate has been greatly increased by recently published research.

Working with Nord University, Norway, the University of Aberdeen and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), scientists from the Marine Scotland directorate of the Scottish Government set three clear objectives:  to ask if blue skate forms distinct populations in different areas of the sea;  to determine the size of these populations; and to identify any signals that might suggests that skate populations are responding to environmental changes, including climate change.

Historically, the blue skate was one of the most abundant skates and rays in the Northeast Atlantic and was widely distributed in the seas surrounding the British Isles. Unfortunately, both blue skate and flapper skate populations have declined drastically over the last century. Part of the elasmobranch group, which also includes sharks and rays, skates are characteristically slow to grow and mature and have a relatively low reproduction rate, which makes them particularly vulnerable to human-induced impacts such as fishing.

 Sampling locations across the North-East Atlantic Ocean for 503 blue skate  that were used for population genomic analyses

Figure 1: Sampling locations across the North-East Atlantic ocean for 503 blue skate that were used for population genomic analyses

The study used genetic data collected from blue skate during surveys on our research vessels, Scotia and Alba na Mara (Figure. 1). Analyses of these data suggest that distinct inshore (British Isles) and offshore (Rockall and Faroe Island) populations exist and that population sizes are largest in the Celtic Sea and Rockall, but low enough in Scottish west coast and Faroese sites to be of potential conservation concern.

Further results from this study highlight how a changing climate can put populations of threatened species like blue skate under pressure. Of the 21 genetic markers (a sequence of DNA) identified in the study, one was found to be linked  with environmental variables predicted to be affected by climate change, including bottom temperature, salinity and pH.  While the biological function of this genetic marker is not yet fully understood, the results suggest that climate change could affect the survival of this species in some areas, further reducing the area of suitable habitat where populations of blue skate might flourish.

Skate are classed as a Priority Marine Feature and have been identified as a species of conservation importance in Scotland, the UK, the North-east Atlantic and globally. Data from this study will help with the conservation of this rare and endangered species and will further support the UK Marine Strategy.  With almost one-third of elasmobranch species globally threatened with extinction the results of this scientific study may provide vital insights on the distribution, behaviour, and biology of blue skate in the North-East Atlantic that can inform future conservation efforts for this and other critically endangered elasmobranchs.

Further information:


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Sharing women’s achievement in our marine directorate

Tue, 2022-03-08 10:16

To mark International Women’s Day (8 March 2022), we are sharing some of the achievements of women working in various roles across the Marine Scotland directorate of the Scottish Government.

Kelly McIntosh, Marine Chemist works in our science team (main picture above) Kelly said:

“I grew up in Fraserburgh, before doing a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Forensic and Analytical Science at Robert Gordons University in Aberdeen. Part of my degree involved an 18-month industrial placement with Shell at the St Fergus Gas Processing site.

“While on placement, I worked as a technician alongside the Process Chemist carrying out compositional analysis of oil and gas samples and the components which were pumped down to Mossmorran Natural Gas Liquid Plant for further processing. We were also responsible for keeping an eye on the air emissions from the gas turbines. This was quite exciting because it involved climbing the massive stacks that tower over the site to carry out the analysis.

“I went on to complete a masters in Environmental and Analytical Chemistry at University of Aberdeen, and this was what brought me to the Marine Laboratory. My research project was based at the Marine Laboratory and involved looking at a specific type of plastic to see if it acted as a vector for the introduction of persistent organic contaminants into the marine food web.

“After graduating in 2014, I joined the Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Group, working on the determination of nutrient concentrations in sea water. In 2016, I joined my first research survey, where I supported the primary Water Chemist with nutrient analysis in the containerised laboratory, on-board marine research vessel (MRV) Scotia. This trip was preparation for me joining the December Hydro Survey as the Water Chemist, I was going solo! Although the idea was terrifying, I really loved being part of a team who were out in the field and gathering data from the long-term hydrography lines east of Orkney, which run between Shetland and the Faroe Isles.”

Eilidh Cox, is a Second Officer in our operations team Eilidh said:

Eilidh Cox as a child on a boat“Growing up I spent a lot of time on the water sailing with my family around the west coast of Scotland. As a child I loved the adventure of exploring our beautiful islands by boat. But it wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s that I started to consider turning my passion for being on the water into a career.

“After a year working as crew on a charter sailing yacht, I started looking into pursuing a career at sea. I learned about Merchant Navy cadetships and started applying for deck officer training schemes with various training providers.

“I was offered a place on a three-year cadetship programme with Chiltern Maritime, funded by the UK’s Maritime Educational Foundation (MEF). During my training I was placed on a number of different types of ships including an LNG gas carrier, cruise ships and a British Antarctic Survey logistics ship.

“Being able to set foot on the Antarctic continent was a definite highlight of my career to date. This range of experience during my training gave me great insight into the different possible directions I could take my career and solidified my ambition to become a Merchant Navy deck officer.Eilidh Cox "; I had no idea how abundant our waters were with sea life and I felt so lucky to be able to witness it while at my work!"

“After three years of training both on ship and at City of Glasgow Nautical College, I achieved my Officer of The Watch qualification. I was then offered my first job as 3rd Officer on LNG carriers where I spent six months working deep sea around the world.

“In 2020, I was contacted by a friend who was sailing as 2nd Officer with the Marine Scotland directorate of the Scottish Government, who informed me that there was a spot available on one of their MPVs to sail as 2nd Officer. I immediately expressed my interest and by the end of the day I was signing my first three-week contract to join the MPV Hirta in Aberdeen.

“During my first trip on-board the Hirta we departed Aberdeen and were tasked over to patrol the fishing grounds west of Orkney and Shetland, as well as in the Minch and the waters around the stunning Isle of Skye. It was an unbelievable trip where I saw more wildlife than I had seen in the rest of my career to date. I saw countless marine mammals such as orca, humpback whales, dolphins and many more; I had no idea how abundant our waters were with sea life and I felt so lucky to be able to witness it while at my work!

“Last year, I successfully secured a permanent position as a 2nd Officer within the organisation and I couldn’t be happier! I’m now beginning my training to become a warranted British Sea Fishery Officer, which will allow me to lead inspections of fishing boats in Scottish waters during fishery patrols amongst other duties. I hope to eventually return to college to gain my Chief Officer and Master’s qualifications, and have a long and fulfilling career at sea.”

Louise McKenna, is a 3rd engineer in our science teamLouise McKenna "I’m still at the beginning of my career but I’ve had a great few years working with interesting people in interesting places!” Louise said:

“I was born and bred in Glasgow and studied Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering at Strathclyde University. It was a great four years but as the job at the end is mostly office based, I decided that I needed something a bit more hands on. After a bit of searching around, I applied for the Merchant Navy and studied in South Shields near Newcastle.

“I was hired by a cruise ship company for my cadetship which was a great experience. I managed to see a lot of the world that I wouldn’t normally have the chance to (from Alaska to South Korea to the Caribbean), and I continued to work on cruise ships for a few years after achieving my 3rd Engineers licence. I had always wanted to work on a research vessel and the Covid pandemic provided me with the chance to start working with the Marine Scotland directorate of the Scottish Government.

“I’ve been working with Marine Scotland since the beginning of 2021 on one of their MRVs, Alba Na Mara. Our trips last for 3-4 weeks at a time with different researchers from the science lab coming on-board each trip. The work that they complete with us can vary so much from trip to trip; it could be collecting water samples near the Inner Hebrides to analyse plastic pollution, collecting seabed samples on the Scottish East Coast to analyse blue carbon levels, dropping off hydro-acoustic mooring devices in the Moray Firth to track the sounds of the dolphins and whales that live nearby or using our underwater cameras in the Marine Protected Areas around Scotland to assess how well the areas are recovering. We’re lucky enough to see a huge variety of wildlife on our travels – from baby common octopus to baby dolphins.

baby dolphins from Alba na Mara

“It’s been quite a change coming from cruise ships to a small research vessel – I’ve gone from a vessel 270m in length with 2000 crew members, to 27m in length and eight crew members! The Scottish Coastal waters can be quite choppy in the winter months too, a big change from the smooth sailing around the calm Caribbean waters.

“Each day varies on-board, but it usually starts with putting on my boiler suit and doing the morning engine room round. Once it’s time to set sail from our anchor point or harbour, myself and the Chief Engineer will get all of the engines and systems started up for departure, making our way through the extensive list of departure safety checks. Throughout the day we will continuously monitor the engine room along with completing our scheduled maintenance tasks. Every so often we encounter problems with some machinery and it’s rewarding to see the system working again after the challenge of working through the issue.

“If anyone is thinking about becoming an engineer or working at sea, I’d definitely recommend asking some questions and looking into it further. I’m still at the beginning of my career but I’ve had a great few years working with interesting people in interesting places!”Athena Swan logo

In 2019, the Science team in the Marine Scotland directorate achieved the Athena SWAN Bronze gender equality award, recognising commitment to, and progress on, equality and diversity; particularly in relation to gender. Since, colleagues have been working through an action plan to continue fostering improvements to gender equality and enabling all colleagues to achieve their maximum potential.

If you are interested in a role within the Marine Scotland directorate of the Scottish Government, we have a number of different vacancies on our careers hub.

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UK-Faroe bilateral talks for fishing opportunities in 2022 have concluded

Wed, 2022-02-09 14:40

The UK/Faroe bilateral for 2022 fishing opportunities has now concluded, with agreement on exchanges of fishing opportunities worth an estimated £5 million with Scotland receiving the highest return ever on record for Faroese stocks.

The Faroe Islands are one of Scotland’s closest Coastal State neighbours. As such, we have a number of shared fishing interests, and the UK and Faroe Islands are close negotiating partners, including in Coastal States consultations and Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs).

The Parties signed a Framework Agreement on Fisheries in October 2020, and the bilateral agreement for 2022 marks the start of a new bilateral fisheries arrangement between the Faroe Islands and the United Kingdom.

The Parties agreed to quota exchanges worth an estimated value of more than £5 million to each Party (based on 2019 prices). This will see Scotland receiving the highest return ever on record for Faroese stocks, and is based on a fair and balanced exchange. These exchanges will enable UK vessels to fish cod, haddock, saithe and other species in Faroese waters in 2022. Faroese vessels will be granted access to fish stocks including western horse mackerel, Greenland halibut, ling and tusk in area 4, and western blue ling, in UK waters.

The exchange also includes 400 tonnes of haddock in UK waters of area 4, to be fished by Faroese longline vessels. Should there be high utilisation of this quota (at least 90%), the Parties agreed to reconvene to discuss an additional transfer of up to 1,600 tonnes of haddock, in exchange for further transfers of stocks in Faroese waters to the UK.

The Agreed Record also sets out technical elements such as control and enforcement, and arrangements for the UK/Faroe Special Area (‘Grey Zone’).

Copies of the agreed record of these consultations will be made available online in due course.

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Targeted and focused approach to strengthen Clyde cod recovery

Tue, 2022-02-01 17:36

Measures which have been in place for more than 20 years to protect cod during their spawning season in the Firth of Clyde, will continue in 2022 and 2023 with some changes.

The seasonal spawning closure in the Firth of Clyde in place from 14 February – 30 April will see changes introduced to make it more focused and targeted as compared to the closure areas previously announced. The overall size of the closure compared to previous years will be reduced by 28%*, while providing increased protection to spawning cod by prohibiting all fishing activity in the closed areas. (*or 35% of the previous Article 3(a) area only).

Cod prefer to spawn on harder substrate (coarse sand, gravel) but may also spawn on softer ground (sand, muddy sand, sandy mud). The revised closure area takes this into account, and only prohibits fishing activity in likely cod spawning areas while leaving muddy areas open for fishing activity. This represents a change to the Scottish Government’s original position. It will only have a short-term impact on local fishers given that the closure of the fishery is for 11 weeks, but by taking action now, we hope to see the stock replenish which will ultimately be beneficial for fishing interests.

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said:

“I want to thank all the stakeholders involved for their participation and patience in what have been extremely constructive discussions over the past few days. We have listened to their concerns and taken these on board.

“As a result of these discussions and based on the scientific evidence, we have introduced closures that are more focused and targeted, reducing the overall size of the closure compared to previous years by 28%. However, this part of the Clyde area will still largely be closed to all fishing, eliminating disturbance during these critical 11 weeks for future cod stocks.

“We will continue our engagement with all parties involved and increase monitoring of activity in order to assess progress. A stocktake meeting will be held with stakeholders after the closure period to reflect upon its effectiveness and impacts. We will also ensure we learn from this experience and apply any lessons to future closures.

“The revised closure areas are a pragmatic and evidence-based solution to ensure that primarily, we are still seeking to protect the spawning cod whilst also mitigating potential socio-economic impacts on our vulnerable coastal communities.”

Stakeholders have been engaged in developing these changes and a review meeting with stakeholders will be held following the end of the closure in 2022 to assess its effectiveness and practicality. During the closure the Scottish Government’s Marine Scotland directorate will increase monitoring of activity and catches to assess in particular whether, and where, cod are being caught outside the closure areas, and whether they were mature enough to spawn.

Map of the Clyde Cod Closure for 2022-23

Since its introduction in 2001, the annual closure of the spawning ground has included exemptions to allow Nephrops trawlers, creels and scallop dredgers to continue to fish in the closure areas, due to the low numbers of cod that they catch. However, despite the ongoing seasonal closure, the stock has shown little sign of recovery.

While spawning, cod are extremely vulnerable to fishing activity. They are focussed on mating, and the males are unwilling to leave their hard-won mating grounds (or “leks”), so both sexes are less likely to try and evade oncoming fishing gear which means that mating adults are at greater risk of being caught. In addition, physical disturbance within the relevant areas of the Firth of Clyde during the mating period will disrupt the mating activity and potentially destroy the lek areas, and cod so disturbed may not return (and therefore may not spawn that year). If the stronger males are caught or disrupted leaving the weaker males, those males that remain may not be able to attract females. Moreover, stressed males are less likely to initiate mating. Noise may also disrupt mating, with females potentially unable to hear mating calls (Slabbekoorn et al 2010). Removal of all fishing activity within the closure areas should significantly mitigate these risks.

Scientific research around this topic suggests that any fishing activity within 10 metres of the seabed (which would include trawling, dredging, diving and creeling) has the potential to impact on cod spawning activity. This scientific evidence was the basis of similar fishing closures in the North Sea.

Removal of the exemptions will also create consistency with management in other areas, including the UK National North Sea Cod Avoidance Plan, which covers closure areas for all gear types (excluding pelagic), and the recent emergency Marine Protected Area (MPA) designation in certain areas of the Inner Sound and related Marine Conservation Order, which includes prohibition on creeling in order to protect the critically endangered flapper skate nursery area.

This decision aligns with the commitments in the policy programme of the Bute House Agreement between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Party and our shared aim to restore marine habitats in Scotland’s inshore waters.


The Scottish Statutory Instrument and more information is available to view on the Scottish Government website.

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Permanent protection for flapper skate

Tue, 2022-02-01 12:03

A consultation has been launched to gather views on making a Marine Protected Area (MPA) which is protecting the critically endangered flapper skate in the Inner Sound of Skye, permanent.

The Red Rocks and Longay Marine Protected Area (MPA) was urgently designated in March 2021, following discovery of the largest flapper skate nursery area in Scotland with the site being deemed nationally important for the conservation of the species.

At the time a range of measures were temporarily brought in to prohibit marine activities within the site such as: certain types of fishing, diving and construction to ensure the flapper skate and their eggs were not disturbed.

Little is known about flapper skate breeding grounds and habits due to their rarity. Their eggs take around 18 months to hatch and can be sensitive to disruption from marine activities during this crucial time.

Flapper skate eggs Copyright NatureScot

Flapper skate were historically abundant in the North-east Atlantic and widely distributed in the seas surrounding the British Isles. However this has reduced significantly and the flapper skate now only occurs in the northern North Sea, off Northern Ireland’s north-east coast and off Scotland’s north-west coast.

Now considered its own species, it was once thought that flapper skate and blue skate were the same species, called common skate. Flapper skate (Dipturus intermedius) and blue skate (Dipturus batis) are now known as part of the common skate complex. Common skate are also a protected feature of the Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura MPA.

Flapper skate Red Rocks and Longay MPA map

During the gathering of evidence and assessment to support the permanent site designation for the conservation of flapper skate, important components of the Quaternary of Scotland geodiversity feature were identified. These are functionally linked to the flapper skate by providing suitable habitat for egg-laying and has been proposed as a second protected feature of the site.

As well as the consultation, an  extension to  the current urgent protection measures to ensure the protection within the site is being brought in through an Urgent Continuation Order. This will ensure protections remain in place whilst the public consultation on the proposals to make the site a permanent MPA with an MCO is undertaken. This will come into force on 16 March 2022.

Take part in the consultation to permanently designate the Red Rocks and Longay MPA.

The consultation will run for 12 weeks, from 1 February 2022 to 26 April 2022. The consultation is proposing to remove scallop diving and recreational diving from the list of prohibited activities in the draft Marine Conservation Order (MCO). These activities will be removed from the urgent MCO as soon as is reasonably practicable, in order for these prohibitions not to remain in place for any longer than is necessary.


This is the second urgent Marine Protected Area (MPA) to be created using powers within the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, the first being the Loch Carron urgent MPA created to protect flame shell beds in 2017. The Loch Carron MPA was made permanent in 2019.

Scotland’s Marine Protected Area (MPA) network covers in excess of 37% of our sea area, exceeding the proposed new global target of 30% coverage by 2030.

Following further surveys to gather evidence for the permanent site in August and September 2021, a significant number of flapper skate eggs were discovered north of the original site. Scottish Ministers determined there was a need to urgently extend the boundary of the urgently designated Red Rocks and Longay MPA in the interim. The MPA was extended in December 2021.

Further information:


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