This week we continue the story of scallop diver Liam Griffin, (pictured above) who has practised his trade for nearly 30 years on the west coast.
The motto for Liam’s clam diving endeavour, painted on the side of his boat, was “Care, Conserve, Catch.” He explained his thinking behind the motto. “If you don’t care, you’ll not conserve, and will soon stop catching.”
He weighs into the dredger versus diver argument, “I don’t entirely subscribe to the ‘dredger bad/diver good’ theory. I have been to enough Scottish Scallop Association meetings to understand that we are all having an effect. We use the term ‘harvest’ when talking about the scallop fishery. But harvest implies a planting process, a cosseting of the planted area, patiently awaiting the seeds to ripen and grow to maturity, before reaping. We don’t harvest as such, because we don’t plant. Fishermen just steam about, with little coordination among us with regard to the density or regularity of our effort. We use empiric knowledge and high tech electronics to exploit every nook and cranny of the seabed. And be sure, I include divers in that criticism, and anglers and scuba divers too.”
He explains that scallop dredging involves a fishing vessel dragging a series of steel-toothed bars attached to steel ring bags across the seabed. “The toothed bars force the scallops up out of the seabed, where they lie partially buried. The steel ringed bag then envelopes the shellfish, irrespective of size or age group, and eventually, the whole apparatus and its contents are winched to the surface. Then the scallops are extracted from among the ‘by catch’ of starfish, rubble and seaweed inevitably caught up in the dredging process.”
To breed and procreate, the scallop shell produces either male or female reproductive material into the sea, an action triggered by water temperature. Other scallops in close proximity react to a chemical signal, and, in turn, produce either male or female sperm. From this melange of sperm and egg, fertilisation takes place mid water. It is crucial that the scallops must be in close proximity to each other to become aware of the chemical signal, and they must congregate on a suitable “bed” that allows them to become part of the background, camouflaged from predators.
“The process of scallop dredging is such that the scallops tend to become so disturbed and scattered, the reproduction process doesn’t occur as successfully,” Liam said. “In addition, the nature of the seabed, churned over by the raking effect of the dredges, is altered, and is less conducive to the scallops forming ‘beds’ in the first place.”
The question he now addresses is how to manage the fisheries so that the species and its habitat are allowed to recover and remain sustainable for the future wellbeing of fish and fisherman alike. He explained that science points towards a system known as Marine Protected Areas. These are areas that, to one degree or another, are zones in which all or some fishing activity are prohibited or controlled. He passionately believes that such protected areas are the way forward.
On the day I visited Liam, what he called “the equinoctial gales” were driving the rain against the window. Most clam divers, including Liam, would not be working that day. Liam reckons that jellyfish stings, broiling summer heat and winter’s cold are just some of the daily dangers that a clam diver faces- once he can actually get out in the water.
In addition, just as awkward to navigate, is the glut of legislation surrounding the industry, including Diving at Work, Marine and Coastguard Safety at Sea and Food Standard Agency regulations. Just getting - and keeping- the vessel up to muster with the Boat Safety scheme regulations takes constant attention and investment in time and money.
But one thing cannot be negotiated, says Liam, and that’s weather. “I can solve a leaking dry suit, or a flat battery, but I can’t solve the weather. I can only grin and bear it. And anyway, maybe Davy will be up at the Barn Bar, and we can have a beer and belt out a sea shanty or two!”