I’M NOT SURE MANY of us ever consider a scallop’s origin as its white and orange meat sits, neatly presented on its open shell over crushed ice, at the fish-counter. Nor do we give much thought to how it was taken from the sea, or perhaps even at what cost.
I’m not talking about the financial cost involved in its extraction from the seabed, but about the cost to the environment.
Lyme Bay counts for just a slither of Dorset’s 90-mile Jurassic Coast, and is not only an area of outstanding natural beauty but forms part of a World Heritage site.
Golden Cap, the highest sea-cliff on the South Coast, stands proudly somewhere along the centre of the bay, as if keeping guard over its stretch of coastline and Chesil Beach. An 18-mile shingle beach flanks the east, while the western section eventually becomes Devon’s territory as it passes Lyme Regis and then Beer.
Lyme Bay has been the place of work for generations of fishermen and, alongside the many British fish species, scallops have always been among their most desired yield.
Scallops are bottom-dwelling shellfish, with most of the creatures’ shell buried in the sand, opening and closing to allow filter-feeding through its beard, the sieve-like fleshy part of the shellfish found at the “mouth”.
Collecting scallops by hand causes minimum damage to the environment.
For us divers, it’s reasonably easy to spot them as they nervously slam themselves shut on our approach, sending up a plume of sand or silt. Perhaps evolution will some day iron out that little giveaway sign.
Other than collecting scallops by hand – “diver caught scallops” is often seen on menus – there is no environmentally considerate way of extracting these palm-sized fellas from the seabed without destroying everything else living among them in the process.
Scallop-dredging is the commercial procedure, an indiscriminate method that uses a horizontal metal beam or “sword” complete with teeth and accompanying net to scour the seabed while being towed by boat. The level of bycatch with this method is appalling and everything in the equipment’s wake is left broken and dead.
Until the development of a spring-loaded bar system, scallop-dredging was a reliable method of bottom-fishing only on an area of completely flat seabed.
The spring-loaded bar system meant that it could operate on more uneven underwater terrain such as reef systems, so increasing the areas in which dredging could take place and the damage done.