In a bizarre lightbulb moment, scientists have stumbled on a new way of catching scallops: underwater disco lights
Almost 30,000 tonnes of scallops are landed by the UK fleet each year, according to government statistics. Hitherto, catching them has come at a huge environmental cost.
Large-scale commercial scallop harvesting uses dredges to scrape the shellfish from the sea bed – a practice that damages sensitive habitats and other species. Getting scuba divers to do the job by hand is time consuming and expensive.
Researchers from the University of York were working with Devon-based fisheries consultancy Fishtek Marine 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.”
The idea has undergone further tests using funding from Natural England and the UK government’s Seafood Innovation Fund. It revealed that scallops do indeed find the lure of disco lights irresistible.
It is hoped the discovery will lead to new, less invasive commercial fishing methods.
Main image: Dimitris Vetsikas
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