For the last few weeks, scallops have been in the news. Following a long-running dispute in the Baie de Seine, off the north coast of France, tensions boiled over as boats were rammed and things were thrown. The dispute has centred around UK vessels cathcing scallops in an area of sea where French vessels have restrictions placed on them until October. The French fishermen claim UK vessels are catching all the scallops before they can even get started.
The area under dispute is within the French Exclusive Economnic Zone, but under the Common Fisheries Policy UK vessels (which are not subject to the local French restrictions) can legally fish there. Since things got out of hand, efforts have been made to try and resolve the dispute. An outline agreement was reached early last week, and a deal was expected to have been concluded last Friday, but in the end no conclusion was reached. More talks are scheduled for this week.
An overview of the context behind the dispute and its potential implications for Brexit and wider fisheries co-operation can be found in Magnus Johnson and Bryce Stewart’s excellent article here. But many have been surprised that there’s been so much fuss being made over scallops in the first place. This perhaps isn’t helped by the fact four types of fish (cod, haddock, salmon and tuna) dominate the UK market, which no doubt distorts people’s perceptions of what’s available.
In fact, scallops represent one of the most important fisheries to the UK. So to help provide some context to the current dispute (and because making graphs provides a nice break from putting reading lists for the students together) I’ve been looking at the numbers.
Show me some scallop stats!
Scallops are the third most (by value) landed species into UK ports, and a total of over £67 million was landed in 2016. In England they were the top species landed, and worth £37 million.
There’s also variation between individual ports. Shoreham in West Sussex gets the top spot with almost £10 million landed in 2016, but there’s a general concentration of activity on the south coast overall, which has five of the top ten ports for scallop landings by value (Shoreham, Brixham, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Newlyn).
Vessel size is also an important factor. While larger vessels 10m and over by far account for most of the landings made into UK ports, accounting for 90% in weight terms, the value of their landings over the year is only £1,665 per tonne, compared with smaller under 10m vessels which make £2,748 per tonne over the course of the year.
Finally, scallops are also landed into the UK all year round, although there is a peak of activity in the autumn.
Where are UK and French vessels catching their scallops?
Because of Brexit and the dispute in the Baie de Seine, the question of who is fishing in whose waters has come to the fore. But this is tricky to answer. The best data available I could find was for fishing effort and landings by ICES rectangles. These are statistical units developed by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. Each rectangle covers half a degree latitude and one degree longitude. This is still pretty big, and naturally they transcend EEZ boundaries and coastlines. So even with this spatial data, it’s still not really possible to determine how many scallops (or other fish) are caught in whose waters.
These health warnings aside, the following two maps illustrate where UK and French scallops are caught.
Zooming in on the English Channel region generally shows that the UK and French scallop catches tend to be focused on their repsective sides of the Channel, but also that both make use of each others’ waters too.
In terms of the Baie de Seine, where the current dispute is focused, rectangle 28E9 is of the most interest. Here UK vessels caught 1,167 tonnes of scallops, whereas French vessels caught 5,705 tonnes. In other words, UK vessels are catching just under a fifth of what French vessels are in this area.
All of this points to a much more complex picture than is often painted in the media. This isn’t just about UK versus French fishermen. The landing figures show that scallops are an important part of the UK’s fishing industry, but that things vary between individual ports and vessel sizes. And a look at where scallops are caught highlights a degree of interdependency between the UK and France. And this is without thinking about the wider questions of sustainability and the quality of the marine environmnent.
As a political scientist, I find this complexity facinating, but the crucial question is how the various people involved (governments, local / regional authorities, fishermen) will try to navigate it. This all comes back to a question of governance and interests. How will the relationships necessary to manage these complex fisheries be managed and how effective will they work in practice? And how will the diverse, and often competing, range of interests at stake all be balanced?
This all points to the need for co-operation. But the dispute in the Baie de Seine has shown what happens when co-operation breaks down.