SCOTLAND’S leading chef has called for a ban on dredging for scallops in shallow inshore waters in a move which has angered trawler fishermen.
Andrew Fairlie, the only Scottish chef with two Michelin stars, has warned that the £30 million-a-year scallop fishing industry is a “free for all” and threatens the seabed environment and the livelihoods of coastal communities.
His call follows clashes between Scottish fishermen and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall after the latest series of the celebrity chef’s TV Fish Fight campaign alleged that dredging was destroying the seabed and shellfish stocks. Around 98 per cent of Scotland’s scallops are harvested by dredging, which involves dragging large metal rakes behind boats, and around 20,000 tonnes are landed annually
Fairlie, who runs his eponymous restaurant at Gleneagles, said: “I don’t think you can ban dredging [altogether], although they have banned it in Norway where they have one of the healthiest fishing industries in the world.
“But I think inshore shallow dredging should be banned. It has to be managed properly and at the moment it’s a free for all.
“Some of the scallop divers I talk to have terrible problems with some of the [dredging] boats. They understand that the guys who work on trawlers are part of the community too but they [the dredgers] can’t continue to fish as they are because they are ruining the community.”
Fairlie said he had tweeted about dredged scallops and “got quite a lot of abuse [online] from fishermen… I was accused of being elitist and trying to make scallops a rich man’s food”.
He added that he was now prepared to meet industry representatives to talk about the fishing methods used.
The Sustainable Inshore Fisheries Trust, which represents divers who hand-dive for the shellfish, described scallop dredgers as a key player in damaging seabeds. Director Charles Millar said: “They are the most significant cause of ecosystem degradation in our coastal seas. The heavy, iron teeth rip through habitats and flatten the seabed, devastating the fish nurseries we need to restore stocks.”
But The Scallop Association, based in Elgin, reacted angrily to the call for a ban. Association secretary John Hermse said: “Someone should tell these guys [Fairlie and Fearnley-Whittingstall] to stick to cooking.
“Fairlie is making comments without information. We have a long-standing commitment to no-take zones on rotation to help with stock sustainability and protection of areas and there are already seasonal closures in place. I think the Fish to Fork website [promoting sustainable restaurants] now realises that a lot of the hyper-tension given to the scallops debate is over-egged, emotional dogma and drivel perpetrated by people like this who seem to want a world which is unaffected by anything. People like Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fairlie are making scallops an elitist item.”
The Scottish Fishing Federation said it was happy to meet Fairlie, but stopping inshore dredging was “wrong and totally impracticable” because it accounted for such a “large proportion” of the industry.
Bertie Armstrong, SFF chief executive, said: “A ban on inshore dredging would deny the vast majority of consumers the opportunity to enjoy this superb and sustainably caught seafood, leaving the availability of scallops to only a rich elite.”
He warned that a ban would threaten, rather than protect, people’s livelihoods, with more than 1,000 jobs currently supported by the industry. “[It would] have a serious economic impact on our fragile coastal communities, throwing fishermen and the people employed in associated support industries out of work.”
The industry body, Seafish, echoed that view. However, a spokeswoman added: “The focus must turn to what can be done and the industry is very tuned in to sustainable accreditation and improvement of fishing techniques and management.”
Welcoming a chance to meet both chefs, the spokeswoman added: “We believe Fearnley-Whittingstall has been a positive force for sustainability in fishing despite our recent difference of opinions. Indeed, an industry-wide body facilitated by Seafish has recently written to Hugh seeking a meeting and we welcome the suggestion of a similar meeting in Scotland put forward by Andrew. We hope that through this we can plot a path for the future together rather than apart and hope that will lead to some positive outcomes for everyone concerned.”
The Scottish Government is about to launch a review of scallop fishing, welcomed by both sides, which it said would report back in the autumn.