Discussions are continuing over the Island’s queen scallop fishery for 2014 after scientists recommended fishing should be suspended this year to allow stock levels to recover.
The Isle of Man, with scientific advice from Bangor University, has made substantial advances in queen scallop stock assessment and the accompanying management techniques for the local fishery. Bangor University reports to the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture and the Isle of Man Queen Scallop Management Board (QMB) on stock levels each summer and they then agree a catch limit, closing the fishery when it is reached.
There have been record catches in the last four years and concerningly low numbers of juvenile queen scallops replacing them. The combined impact means estimated stock levels are now 53% below historic levels and an estimated 88% below the peak level seen in 2011-12. The overall reduction is a pattern seen not just in Manx waters but also anecdotally found elsewhere in the Irish Sea.
DEFA and Bangor University met the Manx Fish Producers’ Organisation (MFPO) and individuals last week to update them and the matter will be the focus of this Friday’s meeting of the Queen Scallop Management Board, which advises the Department on sustainable management of the queen scallop fishery.
Phil Gawne MHK, Minister for Environment, Food and Agriculture, said:
‘We have always realised that queenies need delicate management and Manx boats traditionally use nets, which minimises environmental impact. We have introduced measures to ensure long-term sustainability, including minimum sizes, curfews and restrictions on where dredges can be used. We consulted the industry over the winter about further management measures as dialogue is important. As a result, we also agreed a separate licensing system from this year which will allow more rapid introduction of controls if required.
‘Our methods of assessing stock levels and our understanding of the fishery are advancing but it’s clear we have more work to do to understand patterns and to balance the opportunity to fish for queenies while ensuring stock levels don’t fall so low that the fishery is irreversibly damaged.’
The Minister said:
‘We appreciate there will be concern over this year’s fishery among those who fish for queen scallops, processors and those who purchase the product, both locally and when exported.
‘We have a difficult and delicate line to tread between taking an unpopular decision now to ensure the longer term future of this important industry and limiting the impact on those who fish for queenies for a living, and on the wider economy.’
Based on this year’s stock report, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certificate for the Manx queen scallop fishery has been suspended pending improvement in the stock. To achieve this, the Isle of Man Government will develop a management strategy to enable stocks to recover. The certification was awarded in 2011 in recognition of the management measures being undertaken. The Minister confirmed the Island would work towards its swift reinstatement.
The Minister said:
‘We now have the opportunity to work with scientists and fishermen to create a rebuilding plan that will help protect the fishery in the long-term. This issue highlights the need for a pan-Irish Sea approach to the management of queenies.’
David Beard, Chief Executive of the MFPO, commented:
‘While it is undoubtedly encouraging to see that the various groups are seeking a joint solution, and indeed the MFPO has a very good relationship with Government, as shown by the success of the Ramsey Bay scallop fishery, it must be noted that the Manx fleet are the ones who will see a reduction in their income for this queenie season and probably next season as well. It is no good to our members, or the Manx public, if we take the necessary steps to protect the long-term future of the queenie fishery but we lose Manx fishermen along the way.’
‘Provided we make the right decisions now we should emerge with a more consistent fishery going forward, well managed and regulated and providing security for the Manx fleet and the Manx processors in the long term.’
Claire Pescod, MSC Fisheries Outreach Manager for UK and Ireland, commented:
‘I know it will be disappointing to see the Isle of Man queen scallop fishery suspended. However, the MSC recognises the number of important, progressive improvements made since certification. The habitat management conditions that they have completed will pay dividends in the future and the stock assessments carried out on the back of their certification over the past three years, have identified the current stock issue in time to act quickly. The Government and the industry are committed to taking swift, decisive action to work towards the long term sustainability of the stock and I hope that we will see their efforts pay off, the stock restored and the suspension lifted in the next few years.’