Towards a Sustainable Scallop Fishery

The Development of the Welsh Waters Scallop Strategy: Sustainable Scallop Fishery Management

A Welsh fishermen led initiative is developing best practice in scallop fisheries management by working with scientists, managers and conservation bodies to protect seabed habitats.

FV Harmoni, a modern 15m Welsh scalloper operating from Pwllheli

FV Harmoni, a modern 15m Welsh scalloper operating from Pwllheli

Scallop fisheries are acknowledged to be amongst the most potentially disturbing forms of fishing currently occurring in British waters.  If carried out over sensitive habitats scallop dredging may cause irrevocable damage to the seabed, a situation which the Welsh Fishermen’s Association (WFA) is working hard to prevent.

The economic realities are that scallops, driven by public demand over the whole of Europe, are a valuable catch (3rd most valuable commercial species landed by UK vessels into the UK with first sale landing worth £54.5M in 2010) and a vital part of the economies of many UK coastal communities where they support fishing vessels and crews, transport firms, processing companies and of course fishmongers and restaurants.

The Welsh scallop fishery hit the headlines in 2009 after an influx of fishing vessels to the rich scallop beds in Cardigan Bay.  These vessels from around the UK, including fishermen displaced from their traditional grounds in Lyme Bay, arrived in large numbers raising concerns on their impact on the fishery and on protected sites such as the Cardigan Bay Special Area of Conservation.

Since 2009 the WFA has been central to developing a Welsh Waters Scallop Strategy in partnership with the Welsh Government, Seafish, Universities and conservation bodies, the aim of which is  to secure a long term sustainable scallop fishery in Wales that maximises socio-economic return whilst respecting the marine environment and other fisheries.

Co-management approaches such as this, where fishermen work in partnership with managers and scientists, are considered by many as the best practice approach to developing effective fisheries and conservation management.

The central themes of the developing Welsh Waters Scallop Strategy are:

  • Spatial management (zoning): scallop dredging avoids areas where sensitive seabed habitats have been identified or, taking a precautionary approach where they are thought to exist.
  • Strong policing of zones: a line on a chart is meaningless unless it can be enforced.  The use of Vessel Monitoring Systems, introduced by Welsh Government in 2012 uses GPS satellite and mobile phone technology to enable fishery officers to track every scallop vessel in Wales ensuring that protected areas stay protected.
  • Scientific research: WFA members are working closely with researchers and experts from Welsh Universities, Seafish, independent experts and Welsh Government to increase the knowledge base that is used to inform management.  At the moment key studies include:
    • Seabed mapping of the Cardigan Bay SAC to improve our knowledge of seabed habitats.  Welsh fishermen are carrying out video surveys with Bangor University and Seafish using fishing vessels.
    • Experimental research into the impacts and recovery on dynamic seabed habitats at different fishing intensities.  This collaborative study with Bangor University aims at establishing the sustainable footprint of scallop fishing on common and less sensitive habitats.
    • Stock assessment of the Welsh scallop population is being carried out using Welsh fishing vessels and the RV Prince Madoc from Bangor University.  This work will improve our knowledge of the scallop population and ensure that it can be managed sustainably for the future.

Welsh scallop fishermen are also working closely with scientists and fishing gear technicians from Seafish to develop low impact and efficient scallop gears that will reduce seabed disturbance.  Attention is often given by celebrity chefs and the media to alternative approaches to scallop dredging such as diving.  Although divers land high quality scallops they are a niche market, the reality is that diving is never going to meet wider market demand and support the coastal economy so we need to work hard in many areas to find ways of maintaining a successful and sustainable fishery that does not have unacceptable environmental impacts.

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