Boost in Scampi landings spotlights sustainability issues

Published on
September 9, 2015

Nephrops norvegicus, more commonly known as langoustine, but also confusingly called Nephrops or prawns by fishermen, and scampi, Dublin Bay prawns or Norway lobster by consumers, is one of the most important commercial stocks in Europe, and Scottish coastal waters support the world’s largest share of this crustacean.

Landings of Nephrops have increased in the United Kingdom from less than 52 metric tons (MT), with a market value of GBP 4,042 (USD 6,176, EUR 5,530) in 1951, to a peak in 2011 of 34,000 MT worth GBP 111 million (USD 1,545 million EUR 1,384 million), when they were the most valuable species landed by U.K. vessels. The catch has declined slightly since then, but it still remains an important and highly valuable fishery, and that’s demanding a greater focus on some sustainability issues with the popular shellfish.

Whole Nephrops, particularly those caught with creels, are mostly destined for high-paying markets in France, Spain and Italy, and are transported live in vivier lorries. Trawl-caught Nephrops are generally sold fresh or frozen, and a considerable volume is also turned into the popular breaded product known as scampi.

Young’s Seafood, one of the largest processors of Nephrops, claims to have introduced the word scampi to the English language in 1949, when the business started marketing their new frozen, breaded Nephrops tail product, which soon became a restaurant and later a home-cook staple.

However, U.S. food historians refer to scampi as a Venetian term, dating in English print to 1920, and referring to shrimp cooked in garlic, butter, lemon juice, and white wine, commonly listed on menus as "shrimp scampi." This is still a common interpretation in the United States today.

“Having different names for one product can be very confusing, and in a world where consumers are concerned more than ever about the provenance of their food, it shouldn’t be a surprise to find that scampi was the second highest ‘what is…?’ question reported in Google’s zeitgeist report for 2011!” explained Young’s Technical and CSR Director Mike Mitchell.

“Ask a class of youngsters if they have every eaten Nephrops/langoustine and they will mostly shake their heads. Ask if they have eaten scampi, and a forest of hands appears; they just didn’t know what it was,” he said.

Whatever its name, Mitchell contends that the burgeoning popularity of the commercial scampi product has created some of the key responsible sourcing challenges which we now face as a modern society.

Firstly, until recently little was known about the biology of Nephrops, and how their breeding habits affected the fishery.

Secondly, there is much uncertainty over stock levels, which are varied. Nephrops are caught in a multi-species bottom-trawl fishery, which complicates their management, and there is uncertainty over the implementation of a long-term management plan. As a result, this species first gained then lost MSC status in Loch Torridon and the West Minch in Scotland, and was withdrawn from assessment prior to certification in the North Sea.

Young’s has undertaken two research projects with Glasgow University to further improve their understanding of the biology and the wider environmental impacts of the fishery. The company has used the findings to develop fisher strategy for the avoidance of berried (gravid) females in specific areas at specific times and for the bycatch avoidance of vulnerable species such as cod and spurdog. Current work includes the application of novel technology to reduce bycatch in the trawl fishery.

The third issue relates to names, and provides trading standards officers with a dilemma. Processors do not agree on a common understanding of the basic product formats, and scampi can readily be adulterated, substituted or extended, leading to consumer confusion over use of terms such as whole tail and the composition of formed products.

The regulations state that “only where one wholetail is used can the product be termed single wholetail scampi. Where a maximum of three wholetails are placed beside or on top of each other before coating, the presence of more than one wholetail within the core must be reflected in the name of the product, e.g. made from more than one scampi.”

“Young’s uses the terminology ‘made with clusters of whole scampi tails’ where more than one piece is used, but it is not uncommon to see products comprising more than 85 percent broken pieces of tail meat, labelled for the consumer just as Wholetail Scampi,” said Mitchell.

Social standards and the exploitation of workers is the fourth issue. In 2014, it became evident that concerns over labor exploitation in the at-sea industry were not confined to distant waters and to developing world economies.

“There was an emerging body of evidence to suggest that this issue may be closer to home than we had thought, and one story reported by the BBC cited the U.K. prawn fishery as a potential area where migrants from countries such as the Philippines and Ghana were being exploited,” he said.

“In the absence of a credible, third-party inspection regime, it is impossible to know the extent of or the truth about such allegations, and to this end Young’s have been working with Seafish to ensure that the newly revised Responsible Fishing Scheme properly takes worker welfare into account during the certification process.”

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