With a shell that can grow up to 9cm, the species, aequipecten opercularis, provides a sweet button of flesh roughly a quarter of the size of the more widely celebrated king scallop. The queen scallop is found as far south as the Canary Islands and north as the Faroes, but it is most abundant in the sea around the Isle of Man, thanks to the Manx government’s progressive approach to conservation: setting aside protected areas for stocks to breed and imposing restrictions on the fishing season.
They have got even more to shout about this year. This season is the first that queenies – caught with nets within territorial waters (12 miles around its coastline) – can claim protected designation of origin (PDO) status. The PDO was , awarded by the EU last November. This is now the only seafood product in the British Isles recognised as being traditionally produced, prepared and processed in its entirety, within a specific region, to acquire unique properties. The method of otter net trawling used by fishermen gained Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification for sustainability in 2011, the first scallop fishery in western Europe to do so.
Scallops are more commonly dredged, which causes damage to the ocean bed. With king scallops, which spend most of their lives under the seabed, the only other option is hand diving, which is costly and doesn’t deliver high volumes. But with queen scallops there is an alternative. They are active swimmers, leaving the seabed to feed in the summer. So from June to October, fishermen, banned from dredging, trawl for them instead within 12 miles around the island’s coastline. (Today the Isle of Man has 28 boats that net queen scallops and only one that dredges for them outside of Manx territorial waters.)
Manx queen scallops are a success story but, as with much else in the slippery world of seafood sustainability, not an unqualified one. Scallops dredged outside Manx waters, including those caught by Irish and Scottish boats, can – although not MSC- and PDO-approved – still be called Isle of Man queenies if they are processed on the island, much in the same way that Manx kippers, made with herrings caught as far away as Denmark and Shetland, gain their name by being smoked there.
Dredged queen scallops fetch the same price as sustainably caught, and although they require more rinsing than those that have been trawled, there is little discernible difference in quality. “The trawled queenies actually cost less to land when you take into consideration fuel costs connected to dragging around heavy dredging gear,” explains Tim Croft of Island Fisheries, which supplies queen scallops to London restaurants such as Hix and Hawksmoor and is a co-founder of the Queenie Festival. “MSC has given us more credibility and public awareness of the product, but it hasn’t necessarily increased sales or the price we can fetch.”
Croft accepts that the situation isn’t perfect. “The market demands queen scallops in the winter when they can only be dredged. The bigger issue is to find a commercially viable way of fishing for king scallops that doesn’t involve dredging. There is a double standard at work, but at least there now is a standard that points out that we have a sustainable fishery.”
UK-caught queenies are still largely ignored at home and shipped abroad where the French, Spanish and Italians are enthusiastic consumers. British supermarkets prefer to sell smaller scallops from Asia and South America.
The hope is that certification will help to change the situation. “PDO strengthens our story,” says Croft. “The UK consumer has never really been aware of queenies; they’re generally only aware of what retailers push their way. Gaining this status on top of the MSC will hopefully help everyone realise what a great product we have.”
Thank You – The Guardian – now back to your Blogger.
In some of the pics above I have shown the Beam Scalloper – King Challenger’ on which I have been ‘fortunate’ to sail as a guest on several occasions from the Solway – round the Mull of Galloway – up by the Mull of Kintyre – through the inner Hebrides (passing by Fladda Lighthouse not a mile from my home here on the Isle of Luing) and round the top via the Pentland Firth to Fraserbrough and Macduff when she was off for a re-fit in the winter months. I use the term ‘fortunate’ loosely.
The Challenger is a blunt instrument – designed with the sole purpose of harvesting by dredging – scallops and queenies from the seabed.
She doesn’t glide through the water like your average yacht – she takes the big seas on the way up to Cape Wrath square on with a thump that goes right through the boat and your body. Once round the point her top weight has her rolling with the waves coming in a-beam and I freely admit I have been mightily seasick while aboard her.
None-the-less I wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world. There is only one comfy seat in the whole boat and that is the Captain’s chair – where – with endless cups of tea from the galley – a course plotted by auto-pilot and eleven large screens showing every navigation aid a guy could need – I must admit I did look forward to my turn in the ‘Skipper’s Seat.’