The Island is spearheading work to find a pan-Irish Sea solution to protecting valuable stocks of queen scallops.
The Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture (DEFA) is leading UK fisheries’ administrations in developing a collaborative approach to management of the queenie fishery across the Irish Sea.
The initiative is a response to concerns over increased fishing and declining stocks.
Irish Sea queenies are concentrated around the Isle of Man but fishing grounds extend to the south and east, too.
Outside the Island’s territorial sea, no comprehensive stock counts or fishing quotas exist and there is no regulation of fishing activity. This potential for overfishing can impact on stocks of queen scallops within Manx waters, where young scallops from the wider Irish Sea settle and grow.
The Island’s queen scallop fishing season runs from early summer until a total catch, set by DEFA annually, is reached. Last year only a limited catch was permitted after DEFA’s scientific advisers warned stock levels were worryingly low. Some beds remained closed while there were restrictions on when others were fished.
Richard Ronan MHK, Minister for Environment, Food and Agriculture, said:
‘Queenies are worth £2.5 million a year to the Island’s economy. Many people rely on them for a living.
‘They are also culturally important, as our best-known delicacy, and are sought-after by visitors to our shores and by leading chefs.
‘It’s important we look beyond our own waters and work with neighbouring jurisdictions to agree a way to strike a balance between the demand for queenies and their long-term sustainability.
‘Officers have already held one meeting with fellow fisheries’ administrations, in December, and have had several phone conferences,’ said the Minister.
‘We are keeping the local industry closely involved and it’s anticipated an industry meeting will be held later in the spring in advance of a formal consultation on proposed management measures.’
Bangor University will conduct the annual queen scallop survey in Manx waters in April and the results will influence the total catch that’s set for the coming season.
A sub-group of DEFA’s Science Steering Group, set up this winter to ensure closer collaboration between the Isle of Man Government, scientists and the industry, will meet DEFA and Bangor scientists next month to discuss the methodology for the survey.
The group includes scallop fishermen, those who fish for crab and lobster with potting gear and the Manx Fish Producers’ Organisation.
The Minister said:
‘We have a common aim of wishing to ensure there’s a healthy and sustainable queen scallop industry and working together is proving beneficial.’
DEFA is also running a consultation, asking whether there is support for a ‘cap’ on fishing for queen scallops in Manx waters while stocks are low and, if so, whether this should be through reducing the number of licences.
The consultation can be found at www.gov.im/consultations.gov
It closes on 9th February and the results, along with Bangor’s findings, will be discussed by the Queen Scallop Management Board, which comprises scientists and representatives of the catching and processing sectors from the Isle of Man, Scotland and Northern Ireland.