From warring scallopers to brothers in arms
Not so long ago — less than two years in fact — tensions were running very high between U.K. and French scallop fishermen due to an increasingly bitter dispute over the rights to catch the valuable mollusks in the Channel. The problem arose because of fundamental differences in the two countries’ fishing restrictions and escalated to the point that after a particularly violent clash the navy had to intervene.
The situation has eased substantially since then, to the point that last week (on 14-16 April) in the Southwest U.K. fishing town of Brixham there was a first two-day meeting of some 60 fishermen, scientists, policymakers, NGOs and industry from both sides of the sea. Organized by the European Commission-funded GAP2 research project, the forum’s main aim was to boost relations within the Channel Scallop fishery. Discussions centered on taking the first steps toward developing a sustainable, regional and collaborative management plan.
Initial agreements between French and English delegations were wide-ranging, but above all it was felt that there’s an overriding need for more science and a bottom-up management approach, led by industry.
Jim Portus, chief executive of the South Western Fish Producer Organisation, which is the biggest scallop producer organization in the United Kingdom, said that both U.K. and French scientists are “frustrated” by the lack of resources being given to them by government departments, but that fishermen would be willing to provide some of the vital science if they’re taught to “become gatherers of data.”
The fishing capacities of scallop boats on both sides of the Channel are limited by kilowatt days-at-sea, which is the measurement of the boats’ fishing capacity. For U.K. fishermen fishing in the April to June 2014 period, this translates to 33 days per boat. The French fleet’s kilowatt allocation is much higher but they never use it all.
Portus believes the biggest threat to the U.K. scallop industry is the limitation on the time at sea available to boats. At the same time, “more and more fishermen want to become involved in scallop dredging because it is potentially quite a lucrative business.”
Economically, it’s actually the most important non-quota fishery in the country with landings totaling GBP 66.9 million (USD 112.6 million, EUR 81.2 million) in 2012 and GBP 16 million (USD 26.9 million, EUR 19.4 million) coming from the Channel fishery. Overall, the scallop industry is worth more than GBP 300 million (USD 504.7 million, EUR 364.2 million) to the U.K. economy.
Portus confirmed that the Anglo-French partnership has been growing and said it’s “absolutely essential that we come to an accord” with regards to a management plan “that will be sustainable in the long term.”
“We coincide with their closed season for both market and conservation reasons, and they in turn assist us by providing ‘effort days,’ which are transferable from one country to another. So, we can have this synergy in terms of the two countries working together.
“That is the current partnership. We hope it’s a sustainable one. Obviously, sustainability can only be determined by having good scientific evidence, looking at the different stocks in the different areas and maintaining fleet levels that don’t overexploit and cause stock collapse.”
Dimitri Rogoff, French scallop fisherman and member of Comité Régional des Pêches de Basse-Normandie (Regional Sea Fisheries Committee of Lower Normandy), reckons the commercial viability of the fishery is dependent upon the viability of the actual resource – the scallops – and that the biggest threat to the stock is the expansion of the fleet in ICES Area VIId (Eastern English Channel).
“For a more sustainable future, it is necessary that the UK develops a fleet based on smaller boats, and builds the market price for the resource — sell fewer scallops for a greater price, which benefits everyone,” said Rogoff.
At the GAP2 workshop, attendees also heard from representatives from the Maine scallop fishery who flew in especially for the event and gave their European counterparts some food for thought.
“The positive thing about the Maine fishery is that they are experimenting with rotation — harvesting the scallops by zone and leaving some ‘fallow.’ We have closed areas in France in the past due to toxins within some stocks, obliging us to have closed areas. We realized after this that having a closed area was beneficial to the whole stock, so we are now thinking about doing this ‘intentionally’ in the future,” said Rogoff.
Moving forward, the French delegates commented that there was an appetite for a future meeting — a desire that’s held on both sides, said the workshop’s organizers. While nothing has been set in stone yet, the agreed strategies will undoubtedly require future discussion and cooperation.