Scallops are practically de rigueur on the menus of fine-dining restaurants, or even just those with fine-dining pretensions. The shellfish is ubiquitous - you need only look as far as Masterchef where it seems to find its way onto every other dish produced by aspiring chefs.
In fact, the king scallop industry has grown year-on-year to hit £54.5m in 2010, and hand-dived scallops are the benchmark of real quality.
But sadly, despite their enduring popularity, all is not well in their world - or more specifically, in the world of the artisan hand-dived scallop industry that harvests them.
As we discover in our investigation into the state of the industry on page 46, EU regulations are preventing producers from selling scallops live and in their shell because of rules governing the acceptable level of certain toxins in bivalvia (oysters, mussels, and scallops). These regulations govern the whole scallop, including the guts, where most of the toxins reside, making it extremely hard for hand-dived scallops to pass the test without being shucked.
The effect on the hand-diving industry has been near-catastrophic. A few years ago there were 13 hand-diving businesses on the Scottish Isle of Mull. There are now just two.
UK hand-dived scallops are a premium product, sustainably fished, providing top quality shellfish to restaurants around the country, and much-needed jobs to the local economies that produce them. But it is now hard to get them alive and fresh, and when shucked it is hard to distinguish between dive-caught and dredged.
We need a commonsense solution to this problem - an agreement between chefs and producers that they do not use the viscera would be a good way forward. Scallops are not eaten whole in the same way as mussels and oysters, and the European policy makers need to recognise this.
By Neil Gerrard
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