‘Dredge’ is one of those evocative words that just doesn’t sound nice. When it comes to the seabed, the effects of dredging are certainly none-too-pleasant. That’s true whether it’s scouring out the seabed on purpose to remove sand and gravel, or using heavy metal fishing gear to churn up the sea floor to catch scallops that live in it.
The trailer for the new series of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight (which starts tonight at 9pm on Channel 4) shows quite graphically what dredging for scallops looks like. It’s not something most people are familiar with. At first glance, it might look a bit like ploughing a field. But if we were catching wild animals like that on land, well…
Scallop dredging isn’t nice. It’s a form of bottom trawling that is indiscriminate and radically changes the ecosystem on the seabed. Pristine areas that might be hugely complex and rich in life are left as rubble in the wake of the dredges. That’s bad news for the scallops and other life, including young fish that might find food and shelter there.
But it’s happening around our coasts all the time. Scallop dredgers are often relatively small vessels, but the impact on the seafloor can be huge. So dredging should matter to you, whether you want the sea life protected or are really just hoping you have some seafood to eat in years to come.
If you eat seafood, as a consumer you have a choice. You can seek out scallops caught in a way that has a lower impact. A great feature piece in last week’s Observer showcased the Ethical Shellfish company, just one of those who provide dive-caught scallops. It’s not hard to work out how radically different the effects of the hand-picked method are compared to dredging.
Of course there’s a cost, and it’s partly up to us as consumers to decide where that cost should be accounted – by wanton damage to the sea floor, including endangering future availability of the very thing you are eating, or by paying more for your scallops. It’s the same choice when it comes to supporting other more selective, but perhaps more labour-intensive ways of catching fish, or indeed providing other food.
There’s no such thing as a cheap lunch.
Some restaurateurs already make the scallop choice for you, and are happy to explain just why they do. Many TV chefs casually drop in ‘dive caught’ when talking through a scallop recipe. I wonder how many people remember that at the fish counter though?
The current scandal in the UK over horsemeat in processed ‘beef’ products goes to show that we don’t often know where our food comes from, or indeed the real cost of food we think is cheap. Perhaps that will help serve as a wake-up call on more than just frozen lasagnes.
We need to look after our seas. A good first step is to champion the less damaging and less wasteful ways of catching our fish.