A chance discovery has led to an environmentally friendly fishing method for catching scallops using illuminated pots dubbed “scallop discos”.
The discovery, made through a partnership between marine scientists and fishermen in the south-west of England, could help create a new low-impact fishery to reduce the pressure from damaging dredging, the team said.
Most commercial scallop harvesting is carried out using dredges which are dragged over the seabed to scoop up the shellfish, harming sensitive habitats and species, while low-impact methods for harvesting them by diving produce a limited catch.
Scientists from Fishtek Marine, a Devon conservation engineering company focused on technology to reduce bycatch, were working with Newlyn-based Cornish fisherman Jon Ashworth to trial “Potlights”.
The small underwater lights, powered by two rechargeable AA batteries and clipped inside fishing pots, were developed by the company to bait crab and lobster pots, protecting fish stocks by removing the need to use fish as bait.
The team discovered that the lights combined with specially modified pots were attracting large numbers of scallops, which have 200 tiny eyes, in addition to the crabs and lobsters that were being targeted.
Mr Ashworth, skipper of the FV Three Jays, said: “The first day out was just excitement after excitement.
“Pretty much every pot that we hauled had scallops in them and yet every haul without lights had no scallops. It was conclusive, there and then.
“To have proven that lights can be used to catch scallops has got to have some awesome implications looking forward.”
Dr Rob Enever, from Fishtek, said: “I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was sceptical that it would work, but the first time we hauled the pots and saw the scallops inside we knew we had discovered something significant.
“It was so exciting that I could hardly sleep for a couple of nights.”
Funding from the UK Government’s Seafood Innovation Fund allowed further trials to test pot designs and prove the technique consistently attracts scallops.
The team is developing two new pot designs for retaining scallops and experimenting with different coloured lights, with the help of local fishermen, pot makers and scientists from the universities of Exeter and York.
Fisheries minister Victoria Prentis said: “It is great to see Fishtek Marine benefiting from our Seafood Innovation Fund, and developing a world-first method for catching scallops in an environmentally sustainable way.
“The funding is supporting innovation, helping industry use cutting-edge technology and protecting the marine environment.”
The results of the trials have been published in the journal Fisheries Research.
Pete Kibel, co-founder and director of Fishtek Marine, said: “The potential of this new approach to scallop harvesting is massive, offering notable benefits to the marine environment while creating a new commercial opportunity to fisheries around the world.”
The company plans to work with other inshore fishers around the UK to develop the scallop potting technique in a bid to establish a commercially viable low-impact fishery.