Climate change boost for scallop industry

Ocean warming has boosted scallop stocks in the United Kingdom and could further boost the region’s 40 million GBP (63 million USD, 43 million EUR) fishery in the future. Researchers from Bangor University and the Universities of York and Liverpool recently published their findings in the online journal Marine Biology.

The findings followed analysis of 20 years of data on Pecten maximus.“Temperature can be a strong driver of growth and reproduction in scallops," said  Dr. Samuel Shephard, who led the analysis and is now at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.

The study focused on the scallop fishery around the Isle of Man, surveyed since 1990. The study revealed that each year the number of young scallops, on average, increased during the spring spawning season. The gonads of adult scallops were also larger, indicating higher egg production in warmer years.

According to Seafish, U.K. scallop landings in 2008 rose 11 percent to 23,100 metric tons, up from 20,800 metric tons in 2007. The retail scallop market in the U.K. is worth about 15 million GBP (23 million USD, 16 million EUR)

Researchers cautioned that further rises in water temperatures could have the reverse effect on scallops, with climate-related benefits "easily erased" by an "uncontrolled increase in landings and fishing activity." They suggested better management of the scallop fisheries could "protect sensitive seabed habitats."

"It's great to provide some good news about one of our fisheries for a change. However, scallop fisheries are difficult to manage and have a history of boom and bust around the world," said Dr. Bryce Beukers-Stewart from the University of York's environment department.

"We must ensure this valuable resource is fished in a way that maximizes yields and reproduction to ensure healthy stocks in the future," said Beukers-Stewart.

Further, the advent of new U.K. and European Union rules, said the researchers, is key to harnessing the potential value of the U.K. scallop industry.

"This will only happen if European and national legislation is introduced to control effort and to deal with the issue of latent capacity in the fleet," said professor Mike Kaiser from the School of Ocean Science at Bangor University.

Added threats to growth in the industry may also hail from the "continued growth in ocean temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions" that boost acidity levels of the water, and that could "also eventually affect the ability of scallops to form proper shells and cause widespread mortality," concluded the U.K. researchers.

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