Every year, swathes of our countryside are tilled so that crops can be grown to feed a rising population. There is nothing remarkable about this – we have become accustomed to the sight of tractors and combine harvesters working the land for our collective benefit.
Meanwhile, in the waters around our shores a similar technique is deployed by fishing boats to catch scallops.
Yet dredging – the use of mesh-covered metal frames to gather these tasty, nutritious molluscs which are highly regarded for their quality around the world – is condemned in some quarters as a form of environmental vandalism.
It may surprise you to hear that I’m not going to use this opportunity to claim scallop fishing is angelic in nature, leaving no impact on the seabed.
I’d rather deal in facts and have a constructive debate on the issue of scallop fishing. I invite the ever-growing number of environmental groups and campaigners to join me in doing so.
You see, it has been a rather long and frustrating year for hard-working scallop fishermen – they have faced the wrath of the Greens on what seems to have been an almost daily basis.
From ludicrous claims that scalloping endangers the lives of dolphins to countless calls in the newspapers, on social media and in campaign letters to national governments to ban all scallop fishing, our fishermen have come under constant public attack.
I cannot think of any other profession in our society where employees need to continually justify their right to work. Scallop fishing isn’t perfect, but few human activities are. What we need to remember is that fishing is one of the most tightly regulated activities in the EU, with closely monitored rules in place to limit activity and ensure that substantial areas of important marine habitat are adequately protected.
In many areas around our coastline scallop fishermen have fished the same patch of the seabed for generations – areas more often than not consisting of sand and gravel as it is these conditions that scallops like to settle in.
Of course the Greens, from the comfort of their city centre offices, will have you believe scallop fishermen prefer to trawl carelessly over a dense reef of living creatures, smashing oysters, fan mussels, soft corals, sponges and sea pen in a neverending race to line their pockets. This sounds like a horrific form of environmental destruction. While I understand the need to sometimes not let the truth get in the way of a good story, we must focus on the facts and educate ourselves in the reality of this form of sustainable fishing activity.
Sensationalist propaganda can be unbelievably harmful when it jeopardises livelihoods. Our fishermen, who continually demonstrate their dedication to environmental sustainability, deserve more respect than that.
Contrary to popular belief, scallop fishermen aren’t rough environmental vandals. They’re hard-working men who risk their lives daily to go out to sea to feed their families and make a living, providing vital employment opportunities in fragile coastal communities.
Ask yourself who benefits the most from healthy and productive seas? It’s not those who sign petitions to ban fishing because they believe unless they do so our marine eco-system will suffer irreversible damage. Rather, it’s the fishermen themselves and the communities they support. They are the true custodians of the sea with the real vested interest in ensuring that the sea continues to provide a living for many more generations to come.
l Anne-Margaret Anderson is Inshore & Environmental Policy Coordinator SWFPA