Marine scientists have accidentally stumbled upon an unexpected technique for catching scallops that has the potential to reduce some of the environmental damage caused by conventional fishing practices.
Dr. Rob Enever, a specialist in reducing the impacts of fishing on the marine environment, and his team at Devon-based fisheries consultancy Fishtek Marine, had designed small underwater “spotlights” that were meant to protect fish stocks by replacing fish with LED lights as bait for crab and lobster pots.
When the spotlights were trialed off the Cornish coast in 2019, instead of attracting more crabs and lobsters, the lights caught the numerous eyes of nearby scallops (which can have up to 200 eyes). The fisher that participated in the trial, Jon Ashworth, didn’t notice any difference in the crab or lobster catches but found his pots full of European king scallops.
Later experiments involving a total of 1,886 pots found that the 985 of the pots with the lights caught 518 scallops, while the 901 control pots without lights caught a mere two. The research was recently published in the Journal of Fisheries Research.
“It’s like a scallop disco—illuminate the trap and they come in. It’s astonishing that no one else has discovered this before. It’s quite an exciting find,” exclaims Enever. “This has the potential to open up a whole new inshore fishery and that’s a global first.”
Before this discovery (pun most certainly intended), scallops, which are the most valuable fishery in England and the fourth most valuable in the UK, were caught by dredging, which at large scale damages marine habitats.
The alternative is to use scuba divers to hand-pick scallops, but this is too labor-intensive and time-consuming which means it’s also pricey.
In the future, Enever hopes that scallop potting with LED lights could create a low-input, low-impact way of supplementing the income of the crab and lobster fisheries.
For now, the Fishtek team is working on the LED lights method by conducting more experiments using different trap designs in various conditions and depths in four other locations in the UK.