They love scallops in Oban. “We can’t get enough of them to meet demand,” smiles Carol Watt, whose household agency has been promoting fish within the Argyll port for greater than a century.
As a queue of masked consumers types exterior her little mustard-yellow hut, Watt describes how she likes to prepare dinner the mollusc, pan-seared and served with pancetta, Italian bacon.
Sporting an apron emblazoned with a multi-species shoal of fish, Watt beams with delight as she exhibits off a tray of shelled scallops, palm-sized pale fleshy discs nonetheless hooked up to the blazing pink roe some customers discover too pungent.
The shellfish, typically known as plain “clams” in Scots, by no means used to this in style. Simply sixty tonnes of the species have been landed at Scottish ports in 1960. In 2019 the equal determine topped 15,000 tonnes, down 2% from 2018 however nonetheless value practically £36m.
The increase, nevertheless, has sparked a typically bitter conflict between environmentalists and the fishing business over how scallops, which develop on the seabed, are harvested.
Some “clams” are sustainably lifted out of the ocean by divers who cost a premium to take action.
Most, nevertheless, are dredged, scraped off the ocean flooring by bottom-trawlers.
Diver-fishermen and campaigners say dredgers are successfully ploughing via delicate marine environments to create a scallop monoculture off the Scottish coast.
Trawlers counter that they too fish sustainably; that they keep away from environmentally delicate areas; and that seabeds get better.
In Oban that is no tutorial dispute. Watt’s scallops are dredged. So are these bought at one other fish hut on the harbour, a inexperienced one whose signal grandly declares Oban the “seafood capital of Scotland”.
Almost half of Scotland’s shellfish comes from the west coast. So right here divers and dredgers dwell and work cheek by jowl. However not at all times simply.
Divers have been recording injury they are saying is finished by industrial scalloping.
There have been 48 experiences of suspected unlawful dredging – when trawlers enter marine protected areas or MPAs, the tiny proportion of Scotland’s seas put aside for nature – between the summer season of 2019 and 2020. Most experiences, nevertheless, are virtually unimaginable to substantiate or, for that matter, unsubstantiate. What occurs at sea is “yonder awa”, out of sight.
Divers and environmentalists imagine Scotland’s fisheries watchdog, Marine Scotland, is simply too lax, too near business. Dredgers assume the regulator is simply too powerful, its SNP masters too near the Greens.
Stef Cooper is a diver who has blown the whistle on dredging injury, serving to to doc the tell-tale tramline tracks left after such fishing.
He dives from a ship known as the Compass Rose, now berthed at Oban harbour.
The 39-year-old can take house £300 a day – albeit a long-long day of as much as 13 hours – if he picks 100 kilos of scallops, sufficient to fill his massive inexperienced internet – the scale of a potato sack, twice over.
“It is like being a hunter-gatherer,” says Cooper, echoing a time period additionally utilized by trawlermen.
Two boats down the marina from the Compass Rose is a scalloper, a dredger. What does Cooper consider what it does?
“I have mixed feelings,” he replies. “It’s a bunch of fellows making an attempt to earn a crust. And no one can have something towards anyone doing that.
“But when they are out there just bulldozing the seabed,” he trails off, takes a deep, snorkellers’ breath and provides: “If this was a national park being bulldozed by a private company there would be outrage. But nobody sees it: it is invisible.”
Cooper has been diving for scallops for a decade. Off Orkney, Mull and Oban. “It is heartbreaking, he says describing the seabed after dredging. “It is like the difference between being in a wild wood or in a ploughed field.”
How are relations between dredgers and their critics? “There is no RAC or AA at sea,” Cooper says. “So we rely on each other.”
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Nonetheless, reporting alleged wrongdoing has make issues awkward.“It is always going to cause issues because it is seen as a betrayal of the fellowship of the sea,” says Cooper.
“There isn’t any enforcement, it is only on paper. “Even when they have been caught within the MPAs, they get a parking ticket level of fine.” Cooper’s view is backed by sustainable seafood charity Open Seas. It desires to flip the steadiness of sea use. As an alternative of roughly a twentieth of inshore Scotland waters being protected, they assume most must be, with areas put aside for bottom-trawling if they’re deemed resilient.
Dredging was banned inside three miles of the Scottish coast from 1889 to 1984.
At Oban Harbour David Fraser – nicknamed Toastie because of a long-lost vacation tan – scoffs on the very thought of going again to these days. He dredges for prawns, not scallops, however he has finished his time fishing for the latter species too. Now 61, has been going to sea for 35 years.
“I have fished right around Britain,” he says as he hundreds crates on to his 45-year-old 11.5m prawn boat, the snub-nosed, wooden-hulled Woman Errin. “And I have always done so sustainably or I’d not have a business.”
Fraser has stayed in port due to the climate – it’s a dreich December morning. He usually provides native companies like Carol Watt’s fish store and – as he demonstrates with a sweep of his arm – the upmarket Eu-usk seafood restaurant throughout the harbour.
“These guys can afford to sit and tap away on their keyboards while I am trying to make money in a legal and sustainable way,” Fraser says.
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“There are people from towns and cities who know zero about this environment telling me how it should be run. All they do is tap tap tap.”
Saying he’s “very angry”, however not often resting what seems to be like a permanently-fixed pleasant grin, Fraser disputes that bottom-trawling harms delicate options. Why? As a result of dredgers don’t, he says, threat their useful gear by dragging it over something apart from sandy flat beds of scallops.
“What the general public don’t realise about the seabed is that it has valleys and troughs and deepwater,” he explains. “So scallopers fish in a tiny proportion of the seabed.
“You are not going to tow through the kelp forest, the kelp blocks up the gear. We don’t want to drag our gear over a rock – it breaks.”
Fraser used to dive. Like Cooper, he has seen the underside after dredging. However he tells a special story.
“It is not a sterile desert: it is all life,” he says. “Should you drag over a sandy financial institution; it is going to have an effect however this can disappear in a few weeks. The scallops come again in the identical locations yearly.
“That, in my book, makes it sustainable.”
The cost from environmentalists is that the dredging is creating areas for scallops – however not different species. Nick Underdown speaks for Open Seas – one of many folks Fraser accuses of “tap-tap-taping”. He thinks the injury being finished to the seabed is being ‘normalised” and that that is unhealthy for the long-term way forward for fishing.
“Many within the dredge fleet have fished this way for decades now,” he says. “The modifications over this time are plain – fish shares will not be recovering, and authorities scientists are confirming that seabed habitats are nonetheless in decline. These will not be simply fairly habitats, they’re fish nursery grounds and a public asset.
“Much of our seabed could be teeming with life if left alone, rather than dredged as a monoculture for scallops. It’s a difficult thing to say – but dredging is undermining the viability of other fisheries, other potentially more sustainable livelihoods.”
Open Seas has accused vessels belonging to giant industrial operators of “stealing” in to MPAs. This stance infuriates John “The Dredge” MacAlister, who talks on the species for the Scottish White Fish Producers Affiliation and owns and runs one of many nation’s largest fleets of scallopers.
Talking on a gangway exterior his Oban base overlooking the harbour, The Dredge lets rip at Open Seas. “They put stuff to the media with no sound backing whatsoever,” he says. “They are putting our businesses on the line with unfair allegations and unfair research.”
As his gold medallion, within the form of a ship’s wheel, glints within the midwinter solar, MacAlister denies any of his skippers have ever been in any hassle with Marine Scotland.“We are not causing the damage they claim,” he says. “That will be towards my curiosity.
“We are seeing better signs this year than we have seen in a decade. More young scallops.”
No person in Scotland has scalloped greater than MacAlister, who skippered his first boat at 17. He has been within the commerce for 50 years – “five-oh” he clarifies – and insists the identical underwater options that have been there when he began are nonetheless there now. Campaigners will not be satisfied he’s proper. The clam wars will not be over.