Why scallop-divers are the ocean’s shepherds
April 05 2011 Fish2Fork
Guy with his catch of scallops
Lately I have had encountered a number of “dredge-fishing deniers,” people who refuse to accept the irrefutable evidence that this highly invasive fishing method does any damage to the marine environment. Some of them have even gone so far as to allege that it benefits the seabed by bringing the nutrients to the surface, rather like ploughing a field prior to seeding.
Divers are the real culprits, they maintain, as they hit scallop stocks by fishing the shallow areas, breaking up the densities of scallops and thus affecting spawning. As everyone knows, scallops spawn most effectively when living in close proximity to each other.
So do these arguments have any validity? Of course not. Ploughing the countryside would not be a good policy in the absence of any reseeding – the nutrients would be washed away and we’d land up with swathes of weeds, with myriad complex habitats destroyed in the process.
As for divers, we cannot hit scallop stocks to anything like the same degree as dredge boats do. Trust me, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack down there, and there’s only so much damage that one or two men can do with their bare hands, especially when their time below is strictly limited.
The reality is that most good dive-fishermen are actually rather like ocean going shepherds. After each dive we hand-grade any scallops we’ve landed and put the small ones to one side. At the end of the day we carefully redistribute these scallops in areas out of reach of the dredge boats, seeking out ideal habitat with high tidal flow, which ensures they’re well fed, and ideally on sand. We call these areas ‘chucky patches’, and mark them on our GPS so that we can return a year or more later and harvest those shells that have grown to medium or large size. In the meantime, they will have spawned many times, ensuring lots of little baby scallops for the future. Often, not being very systematic people on the whole, we forget some of our patches and so the scallops will live on to enjoy a ripe old age.
Divers’ chucky patches create ideal circumstances for the scallops to spawn very effectively as they recreate exactly natural healthy concentrations of scallops. Scallop spawn floats in the water column for three weeks before it settles, so our chucky patches are like clusters of dandelions on a windy hill. The ebb and flow of the tides will carry spawn from our patches for many nautical miles.
Another point that mitigates against the view of us divers as mass scallop-killers is that we are limited to scuba depth so can only pick off scallops that reach the top of the conveyor belt. Thus our system feels like picking off the choice crop as opposed to ripping it out root and branch – and destroying huge swathes in habitat in the process. The allegation that divers do as much damage as dredge boats is simply ridiculous and needs to be demonstrated as such. In Ireland, for instance, diving for scallops is illegal, whereas dredge boats can fish with impunity. What’s that about?
Final point: some also argue that divers could never supply enough scallops compared with dredgers. This is wrong. In Norway immense amounts of diver scallops are landed each week and they will never threaten stocks. Why? Because dredging is outlawed and mother ocean’s conveyor belt just keeps on supplying.
Divers do need to be managed of course – there should be maximum as well as minimum landing sizes that divers along with all other fishermen are obliged to adhere to. This is just a simple case of fishery management, as the practice of good dive fishing actually increases fertility, whereas dredging leads to immense destruction. And lastly, to those who maintain that divers wipe out big spawning scallops in the shallows, I’d like to extend an invitation to come out and witness for themselves dredge boats entering shallow water and dropping their gear on kelp forests to rip them away before returning to harvest extra large scallops. They’ve got the parent stock and they’ve also taken away the habitat in one fell swoop. Ironically, dredge boats commonly feature the word ‘Harvest’ within their names. The normal use of the word ‘harvest’ implies some kind of husbandry or planting; I have yet to see dredge fishermen doing anything of the sort.
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4 Responses to "Why scallop-divers are the ocean’s shepherds"
Witnessing would be good. Having been within 10m of a dredge at 25m deep they should hear the damage - sounds nothing like a plough - and they should see the muck stirred up that goes on to smother a significant amount of surrounding area - could not be called farming in any form
i've been a diver for over 20 years and have witnessed the complete devastation inflicted on the seabed by dredging. areas around the coast of the uk are barren and devoid of meaningful life due this commercial activity. some coastal communities are fighting back in order to preserve what remains of their sealife by calling for a stop to this activity and the introduction of marine conservastion zones.
the cause needs a champion to highlight this destruction and maybe the name & shame of the retailers who sell dredged scallops.
i've recently returned from the orkney isles, one the last untouched areas of the uk, and heard stories of increased dredging activity. around a table on a saturday night on the island of eday with some of the islanders, i raised the idea of a marine reserve around the island. it stirred the conversation especially when i described the seabed around england after dredging. the islanders mostly live off the land and take from the sea in a sustainable way. the big issue at the moment is lack of mackerel, the shoals that fill the freezers for winter food has not arrived this year. i'll go back next year and talk about it again, i hope the seed i planted has taken root...
Brian-get in touch if you can. My email: email@example.com