By Mark Edward Nero
According to a recent article in the British newspaper The Guardian, a new and unorthodox fishing technique is not only effective when it comes to catching scallops, but could also help preserve fragile seafloors. And it involves use of disco-like LED lights to attract fish.
The article, which was published May 18, says the discovery occurred when marine scientist Dr. Rob Enever and his team at Fishtek Marine, a southwest England-based fisheries consultancy, designed small underwater lights to help protect fish stocks by replacing the need to use fish to bait crab and lobster pots.
“The lights were supposed to attract crabs into the pots. But quite unexpectedly, scallops, which can have up to 200 eyes, were more attracted to the LED lights, the article states.
“It’s like a scallop disco – illuminate the trap and they come in,” Enever was quoted as saying. “It’s astonishing that no one else has discovered this before. It’s quite an exciting find.”
“This has the potential to open up a whole new inshore fishery and that’s a global first,” he said, adding that he hopes scallop potting could create a low-input, low-impact fishery that supplements the income of crab and lobster fishers.
In 2019, Enever, who specializes in reducing the impacts of fishing on the marine environment using technology, trialed the pot lights with fisher Jon Ashworth off the Cornish coast in British waters. Although Ashworth didn’t notice any difference in crab or lobster catches, he found huge numbers of European king scallops in his pots.
“Pretty much every pot that we hauled had scallops in them and yet every haul without lights had no scallops. It was conclusive, there and then,” Ashworth said. “To have proof that lights can be used to catch scallops has got to have some awesome implications looking forward.”
In further experiments, 1,886 pots in total were hauled; 985 experimental pots with lights caught 518 scallops; 901 control pots without lights caught only two.
For those not familiar, commercial fishermen typically don’t harvest scallops by hand the way recreational fishermen do, because the process is so time consuming. Instead, commercial harvesters have traditionally used dredging methods, which can damage marine landscapes.
Currently, fishing gear for scallops consists of a dredge made up of a rectangular metal frame about 12 feet wide. Steel rings connected together by chain links and webbing along the top form a net. Generally, a vessel will fish two such dredges, which may weigh around a ton each, and are towed through the beds.
Due to the sea conditions associated with offshore scallop beds, vessels average around 83 feet in length. Mounted on the foremast are two booms which are used in hauling the dredges.
A crew on a scallop vessel may have as many as 11 members. Scallops are generally shucked, washed and bagged on ice by crew members on a shift basis, while the vessel fishes continuously.
However, this new fishing method has the potential to change that paradigm and significantly reduce damage to seabeds, according to Evener.
In the Pacific region, one of the larger commercial scallop fisheries is in Alaska, but according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, it has a history of being sporadic due to exploitation of limited stocks, market conditions and the availability of more lucrative fisheries.
In the past, annual catches for the state averaged 800,000 pounds shucked weight and an average annual value of about $1 million.
The Fishtek team is currently performing more experiments using different trap designs in various conditions and depths at various locations.
But if the results are favorable, then fishing for scallops could eventually become a lot easier for anglers and a lot less hard on the seabeds where such fishing takes place.
Managing Editor Mark Nero can be reached at email@example.com.