2. Background to the Consultation
The queen scallop, Aequipecten opercularis, is a medium-sized scallop that grows to around 80 mm and lives for about 6-8 years. It is found from Norway to the Mediterranean, although its greatest abundance, and centre of fishing activity, is in the waters around the UK, particularly in the Irish Sea.
A targeted fishery for queen scallops around the British Isles began in the 1960s. Before then the species was often used as bait for long-line fishing, or taken as a by-catch in other fisheries. Over the last 50 years the fishery has expanded and is currently exploited by vessels from the UK, the Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland, constituting a valuable local fishery with landings in 2014 of around 10,800 tonnes worth approximately £5.9 million (sources: MMO and DEFA).
There are two methods for catching queen scallops; dredge and otter trawl, with the dredge fishery contributing approximately 80% of landings versus 19% by trawl (source: MMO UK landings between 2006 and 2015).
Over the last 10 years, almost all catches of queen scallop have been taken from ICES divisions VIa and VIIa (Figure 1) - from a relatively small areas in the south-eastern portion of VIa off Northern Ireland and the northern half of VIIa, centred on the Isle of Man.
Figure 1 Fishing statistical divisions in the north-east Atlantic, with the primary queen scallop areas (VIa and VIIa) shown in light grey (Source: ICES).
Both the landings and value of queen scallops in the UK and Isle of Man increased considerably in the period 2011 to 2013 (Figure 2). Since then landings have reduced but remain higher than the long-term average. This is considered to be due to:
- Reduced opportunities in other fishing sectors
- The development of specific markets for the product
- Unusually high recruitment and population levels of the species across the region between 2009 and 2012
Figure 2 UK landings and value of queen scallops between 2006 and 2015 (all areas) (Source: MMO)