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FLEETS of huge Scottish shellfish lorries driving through central London this week carried slogans showing their anger over problems exporting fish to the EU.
“Brexit Carnage,” declared one, while another stated: “Incompetent Government Destroying Shellfish Industry.” The lorries parked up just metres from Downing Street.
It wasn’t just Scots. Mark Moore from the Dartmouth Crab Company joined his Scottish colleagues for the protest.
He told the Morning Star: “We are all in this together. The situation is almost unworkable and we need change our industry is spiralling downwards.”
Today some Scottish shellfish boats are sailing 72-hour voyages to sell their catch in Denmark, avoiding the ongoing post-Brexit red tape transport delays and achieving higher prices as well.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described the situation as “shameful and disgraceful” where freshly caught produce has been held up at distribution hubs and struggled to enter France.
Jimmy Buchan, chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association — always firm supporters of Brexit — said this week: “The industry in Scotland has basically ground to a halt and businesses that employ hundreds of people, some in remote communities around our coastline, are losing money with some close to bankruptcy.
“It is time for our governments to get a grip of what is now a full-blown crisis, and fast, before severe and lasting damage is done to the sector.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a committee of MPs that fishing firms impacted by disruption would be compensated for “temporary frustrations.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) told the BBC that it knew nothing of Johnson’s promised compensation.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab claimed the delays to fishing exports were merely “teething problems.”
Labour’s shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard MP told Raab: “The government should stop blaming the fishing industry and start taking responsibility for the mess it has created by its own incompetence.”
A day or so before this Christmas Eve, a fleet of English boats headed out to fish for those spectacular relatives of the oyster, the king scallop.
The English boats found good scallop stocks just a little more than 12 miles (20km) off the French coast.
Holds full, the boats headed back to British ports to load the fresh catch into refrigerated lorries that would deliver the scallops to three huge shellfish markets in Barcelona, Madrid and Vigo on December 23.
Nearly all Spaniards have a big shellfish feast on Christmas Eve and these huge markets — the biggest shellfish markets in the world — provide the fish.
In Scotland the scallop boats were out as well to help fill those pre-Christmas Spanish shellfish markets. Not just scallops but all kinds of Scottish shellfish.
Sadly all the refrigerated trucks got held up in the 48-hour delays at British ports.
This hold-up was not covered by normal freight insurance. With no alternative markets and little British food freezing capacity available, many scallops rotted in the lorries.
Industry experts put the losses as high as £10 million.
There are three fishing methods used to harvest wild scallops. Two are dredging and trawling, both are destructive to sea-bed flora and fauna.
Some can leave the sea floor a complete barren desert.
King scallop (Pecten maximus) is one of two species of scallop cultivated and caught wild in Britain. The other is the smaller queen scallop (Aequipecten opercularis).
The UK currently lands about 30,000 tonnes of scallops a year, the majority of which come from dredge fisheries in which a heavy metal bar is dragged along the seabed.
The only sustainable way to harvest scallops is by using divers to pick them by hand from the ocean floor.
Hand-diving, as you would expect, is more expensive but produces better, undamaged scallops.
Present-day scallop farming mostly consists of laying spat — the microscopic baby scallops — on natural scallop beds.
Now a company, run by an ex-diver in Yorkshire who already farms oysters and edible seaweeds, is developing sustainable scallop farming.
There is often a conflict between the local fishing fleet, using static gear to catch crabs and lobsters, and large, migratory scallop-fishing vessels that aren’t aware of the static gear below and accidentally plough straight through causing much expensive damage.
The new novel technique will farm the scallops in mobile, modular cages on hauling lines.
These will be attached to buoys and suspended below the seaweed to minimise any impact on the seafloor.
A specially designed anchoring and retrieval system will enable the cages to be hauled up when necessary.
Spat will be grown to a viable size in a hatchery before being moved offshore and reared to market size.
One key feature of the trial is that everything will be in symbiosis, with the seaweed consuming and storing carbon and the shellfish filtering and cleansing the water.
This will create an artificial vertical reef that shelters crabs, shrimps and scores of other marine species enabling entire fish and plant communities to establish themselves.
In some members of the scallop family there are males and females.
Other species are hermaphrodites with both sexes in the same individual.
Yet others are males when young becoming females when older.
In king scallops, the main ones we eat, red or orange roe shows the scallop is female.
White roe is male. Spermatozoa and ova are released freely into the water during mating season, and fertilised ova sink to the bottom to become microscopic spat.
After several weeks, the immature scallops hatch and the larvae or spat, miniature transparent versions of the adults, drift in the plankton until settling to the bottom.
The beautiful scallop shell is the traditional emblem of the Christian Saint James.
Pilgrims still follow routes marked with scallop shells to the apostle’s shrine at Santiago de Compostela in Gallacia, Spain, as they have for centuries.
Medieval Christians would collect a scallop shell while at Compostela as evidence of having made the journey.
The shell is also associated with and has become a symbol of the god Venus.
In Roman mythology, Venus was the goddess of love, sex, beauty, fertility victory, and even prostitution — but not, I think, of seashells.
In mammon too — Marcus Samuel and his son, also Marcus, were Dutch. They imported seashells from the Far East during the late 19th century.
In return they exported kerosene to Asia and chose Shell as a brand name. Today Shell is one of the biggest petrol and other energy companies in the world.
One of my favourite examples of artistic representations of the scallop is Maggi Hambling’s 2003 huge steel sculpture at Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast.
It is a memorial to composer Benjamin Britten who established the famous Aldeburgh Festival.
Who exactly has the right to fish for scallops in the English Channel has long been a matter of dispute.
The “great scallop war” or guerre de la coquille, occurred in October 2012.
British and French fishermen clashed 24km (15 miles) off the coast of Le Havre, France.
The dispute arose because of a difference in fishing restrictions between the two countries.
British fisherfolk are allowed to fish for scallops year round, while French scallop fishers are not permitted to fish between May 15 and October 1 each year.
Another similar confrontation took place in the same area on August 28 2018.
In October last year, two British boats, Golden Promise and Girl Macey, based in Brixham, were in the Baie de Seine near the 12-mile French territorial limit.
One of the British craft was surrounded by five French boats, the other by 15.
Flares, oil and frying pans were thrown at the British boats by the French.
There has always been more demand for scallops in France and Spain than in Britain.
For that reason British-caught scallops were often sold in French, Spanish and other European and even Scandinavian markets.
Now the clumsy last-minute Brexit deal on fishing still leaves the waters murky for scallop and indeed all other fishing.
In principle EU boats will continue to fish in British waters for some years to come while the British fishing fleet will get a greater share of fish from our own waters.
That shift in the share will be phased in, with most of the quota transferred this year.
The agreement must be completed by 2026. After that, there’ll be annual negotiations to decide how the catch is shared out between Britain and the EU.
Britain would have the right to completely exclude European boats from British waters after 2026.
But the EU could respond with taxes on exports of British fish, or by totally banning British boats from EU waters.
Meanwhile those of us who enjoy scallops, traditionally cooked with bacon for breakfast, will keep an eye on our fishmonger’s slab and perhaps pray either to Saint James or to the goddess Venus.
Try your next scallops as I like mine. Slice some good-size king scallops with roe. Grill them with the same thickness slices of black pudding. Stand them up like white and brown slices in a toast rack made of stiff mushy peas — its Frosty’s dinner party signature starter.
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