Claims that nephrops fisheries are environmentally damaging have been labelled as “misleading” by the seafood sector this week.
Seafish, the public body that supports the UK seafood industry, has responded to recent media reports suggesting consumers should avoid scampi because the nephrops fisheries upon which its production relies is causing environmental damage.
The reports claimed the fisheries caused significant damage to the seabed, as well as having a negative impact on other species, with bycatch levels that were too high.
However, Seafish insisted the issues were far more complex than portrayed.
“This is an extreme view. The reality is much more nuanced and reflects a fishery where government, scientists, and the fishing industry work collaboratively to improve the management of the fishery and to ensure its long-term sustainability,” said Aoife Martin, Seafish director of operations.
Nearly 59% of global nephrops catch occurred in UK waters in 2021.
There are two fishing methods used to catch nephrops – creels are used to catch and land live nephrops, usually destined for high value export markets, while trawl nets are used to catch the larger volumes of nephrops usually used in scampi production.
Allegations of high levels of bycatch were described as “incorrect” by the public body. It said that nephrops were usually caught among other species.
“Nephrops are an important and valuable part of the catch, but so are other species such as whiting, haddock and cod,” Martin said. “Together these key commercial species can account for over 80% of the catch.”
She added that labelling these species as bycatch was “not correct” as they were “commercially valuable” and fishermen would also hold quota for these species, as well as nephrops.
The public body acknowledged that some protected species did occasionally get caught in fishing gear, and that fishers were required by law to report any capture or entanglement of any marine mammal.
It said there was ongoing work to better manage this problem, including focusing on increasing monitoring to improve the understanding of the scale and impact of marine animal entanglements and to explore options to prevent this happening.
Last week, Open Seas published research that fishery improvement projects in Scotland designed to make the Scottish scampi fishing more sustainable had failed to achieve any practical improvements, despite four-and-a-half years of activity.
The report from the environmental campaign group said the fishery still posed a serious threat to endangered, threatened and protected marine species.
It also claimed many fishing boats catching scampi were completely unmonitored and may be entering areas where there were sensitive and protected seabed habitats, and that the fishery still generated large volumes of bycatch.
“The scampi fishery improvement project has all but failed and there have been no practical improvements in fishing practices despite the many promises of the industry,” said Nick Underdown, head of campaigns for Open Seas. “The whole project looks like a sad piece of sustainability theatre intended to persuade the public that improvement efforts are being made while in fact little of substance has actually happened.”
In October, campaign groups called for supermarkets to remove scampi from shelves until the bycatch problem was resolved.