Label Rouge scallops show resilience

In France, scallops with quality certification are demonstrating strong market resilience.

According to Arnauld Manner of the regional fishing organization Normandie Fraîcheur Mer, the Port-en-bassin seafood auction will "always" sell scallops that bear the Label Rouge logo. Label Rouge, or red label, is a French certification label; for scallops, it indicates the that product has met qualitative criteria, such as being caught and stored horizontally in the boat, harvested no longer than 36 hours prior to the sale and undamaged shells.

Fifteen fishing boats in the area are currently benefiting from Label Rouge, said Manner.

Manner talked to SeafoodSource during a field trip to Port-en-bassin, a fishing port on France's Normandy coast. A handful of delegates from the Seafood Choices Alliance Seafood Summit in Paris visited the port's seafood auction.

In 1989, Port-en-bassin became one of the first ports in France to move from face-to-face auctions to an electronic equivalent. Today, a group of approved buyers from across Europe bid in the electronic marketplace. Advantages, say the auction coordinators, include a 50 percent reduction in sales time, less ambiguity and less litigation.

Normandy waters catch about 50,000 metric tons of seafood each year worth EUR 90 million (USD 122 million), and the region takes the No. 1 French slot for shellfish, with scallops a key commercial species.

When the Seafood Summit delegation visited on 3 February, 28 metric tons of fish were placed on sale through the auction, compared to 100 metric tons on an average day 15 years ago. Approximately every three seconds a lot was sold, with two-thirds of the buyers bidding remotely.

On the day of the auction visit, no scallops were on the quay because the producers' federation for the region had halted scallop fishing for seven days due to overproduction and weaker sales prices. This decision is made from week to week and is generally determined by market conditions, not fishing capacity.

Overall, average seafood prices at the Port-en-Bassin auction this year have fallen by about 10 percent. While the operation costs are stable, greater competition from imports is placing downward pressure on seafood prices: approximately 75 percent of seafood consumption in France hails from imports.
"We are drowning in scallops, and we import five times more than we produce in France," said Manner.
Underlining the economic significance of scallops to local fishermen, Manner added: "Scallop fishing allows the small vessels to balance their accounts at the end of the year. Local scallops that are live and sold whole can fetch a higher price, whereas most UK fishery scallops are frozen on board."

In 2009, whole scallops fetched, on average, EUR 3 (USD 4.08) a kilogram, and about EUR 20 (USD 27.19) a kilogram for shelled. Today, imported shelled scallops from the UK are about EUR 11 a kilogram.

When asked if the producers' federation could influence the number of imports, Manner replied: "No, unhappily, we can't influence the imports. The big decisions are made by the Eurocrats."
But imports are not the only problem facing French scallop fishermen. The federation estimates that about 50 to 60 percent of sales go through unauthorized sales channels. There is no legal obligation to sell through the auction process, but the auction guarantees "payment and a fairer price."  The fishermen are paid 50 percent of sales on the day of the auction, and 50 percent one week later.

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