Scallops: it’s worth navigating choppy ethical waters to serve one of the marine world’s greatest delicacies

Listen carefully and you’ll hear the noise of hundreds of angry fisherman sharpening their hooks, or more accurately their dredging gears, as their industry endures yet another round of bad publicity. Most of their ire will be directed at high profile celebrity chef and restaurateur Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, who last month launched a full scale attack on the majority of the scallop industry.

Channel 4’s Save Our Seas asserted that dredging boats dragging gears across the seabed to dislodge scallops and other marine life lacks discrimination and is causing irreparable damage to the marine ecosystem. Fearnley Whittingstall claims the only truly sustainable option is hand dived scallops, which are far more expensive and represent a comparatively tiny amount of total production. Unsurprisingly, the industry largely disputes this claim, arguing that dredging can be sustainable in areas where the sea floor is constantly being ploughed up by natural tides.

Mixed sustainability messages

But it’s not just the fishermen that are railing against TV’s take on the issue. Seafood expert and restaurateur Mitch Tonks is dismayed at the way dredging has been portrayed. “I get my scallops from Brixham Market; they are dredge caught by the local fleet. When you see Hugh diving on a rocky reef, that’s not quite the full picture: the majority of scallops are harvested from sandy bottoms. It’s heavy impact fishing, but it’s done in a contained area. Besides, dredging is the only way to offer scallops on a meaningful scale.” There are conflicting messages from the big fishing organisations too. The Marine Conservation Society says that nothing but hand harvested will do, but the Marine Stewardship Council accredits a number of dredged scallop fisheries, further muddying the waters for chefs. (more…)