Will there be any scallops for Rye Bay Scallop Week this year?
There are barely three weeks to go before the start of Rye Bay Scallop week, and no scallops have been landed as yet by the local fishing fleet. The reason given by a spokesman at Market Fisheries at Rock Channel is that there is a plentiful supply of fish and quotas are not yet exhausted.
Local fish merchant John Botterell gave further background information:
“Scallop dredging normally follows on after the fish catch begins to decline, from January to May. It provides a secondary source of income and is less profitable for the fishing fleet as operating costs are much higher.
“None of the Rye boats is rigged yet for scallop dredging and it takes four or five days to tool up the boats with all the gear. The working is harder with the engine using £100 worth of diesel an hour. The scallop grounds are five miles further out in the Channel and you’re running in the tideway with tankers and container ships a constant hazard, not to mention Russian warships.
“Instead of fishing at 60-80 feet, the scallop beds are 130 feet down at Shelly Bank off Dungeness and at Boulder Bank which lies to the eastward of Cliff End. At Boulder Bank as the name implies, the dredges may literally bring up boulders weighing two hundredweight or more, all very wearing on the equipment.
“Dredges are rigid structures with chain-mail collection bags that are tow-dragged along the seabed. The Rye boats only have five dredges each side, whereas the Newhaven and Shoreham vessels are larger and are fitted with 8-12 dredges each side, making it a much more cost effective-operation. However, that size of boat couldn’t get upriver as far as Rye fishmarket to unload their catch.
“Again, the three Rye boats capable of converting for the work are all older vessels dating back to the 1960s. Nowadays they are manned by only two fishermen, skipper and crew, whereas once there were three, making it, now, very hard work. The total catch locally might be 120 sacks at 30kg per sack, that would make 3½ tonnes in the shell, say, or 1 tonne of scallop meat ready to cook.”
“What is it about Rye Bay scallops that make them so special.?” I asked him.
“Firstly, we operate a four-month season, shorter than elsewhere,” he replied “so the scallops get to grow really large and juicy, compared to other localities. Then, the waters are cleaner in Rye Bay so they taste much sweeter. That’s why they are so sought after.”
So will there be scallops for Scallop Week? “I think it will happen but it will be a close shave,” he concluded.
Photo: Kenneth Bird