In what can be best described as 'a lightbulb moment', scientists have stumbled on a new way of catching scallops: underwater disco lights. Scientists hail the 'disco'very as a way to maximise catches while reducing damage caused by fishing. It's a win win!
Almost 30,000 tonnes of scallops are landed by the UK's fishing fleets each year, according to government statistics - but catching them comes at a significant environmental cost.
The problem, to date, is that commercial scallop harvesting uses dredges to scrape the shellfish from the sea bed – a practice that damages sensitive habitats and other species. Getting divers to do the job by hand is said to be too time consuming and expensive.
Researchers from the University of York were working with Devon-based fisheries consultancy Fishtek Marine (which specialises in bycatch prevention products) to devise a new way of catching crab and lobster when they made their remarkable scallop discovery.
Instead of wasting fish stocks by baiting crab pots, they tried using LED lights as lures on fisheries off the Cornish coast. But although the marine crustaceans failed to fall for the ruse, scallops – which have excellent vision and up to 200 eyes – did.
“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,” said Fishtek Marine’s Dr Rob Enever, lead author of the study. “It was so exciting that I could hardly sleep for a few nights.”
In further experiments, a total of 1,886 pots were hauled – 985 experimental pots with lights caught 518 scallops; 901 control pots without lights caught only two. Overall, 99.6 percent of scallops were caught in pots with lights. This research, funded by Defra and Natural England, is outlined in a peer-reviewed paper published in the Journal of Fisheries Research
The discovery will lead to new, less invasive commercial fishing methods.
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