Scallop, King, scallops

Pecten maximus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Dredge
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Scotland
Stock detail — 4a (0-3nm)
Picture of Scallop, King, scallops

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

Scallops are the second most valuable shellfish fishery in Scotland and represent shortly half of the value of all the scallops landed in the UK. The scallop stocks which provide the highest landings (which comprise over 75% of landings into Scotland) are the Irish Sea, West of Kintyre, the North West, North East and East Coast. In this area, the North-East stock is discussed. Biomass has a declining trend.

New management has been implemented into the fishery that follows scientific advice, however, it is too soon to tell how effective these are.

Scallops are almost exclusively fished by dredges; some are removed by commercial divers. The Scottish scallop dredge fleet is comprised of two main components, one of larger boats (>20m) which exploit both inshore and offshore stocks and smaller inshore boats (<15m) restricted to inshore waters. Newhaven Dredges are the main fishing method for scalloping in Scotland.

Dredging can cause significant negative impacts to the bycatch and habitats and therefore, MCS advise that no dredging should occur in vulnerable habitats and MPAs designated to protect habitats.

There are Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to protect seabed features within the area of this assessment and some components of this fishery may be fishing in these areas. If appropriate management measures are not in place to protect these features, or, an appropriate impact or risk assessment of the activity has not been undertaken to indicate the commercial fishing activity does not damage the integrity of the site, MCS considers these fishing activities as default red rated.


King scallops are bivalve molluscs found in a range of depths from shallow waters in sea lochs to over 100m. They inhabit sandy-gravel and gravel seabeds. They have 2 shells or valves, the upper being flat, and the under or right valve, cup shaped. They are hermaphrodites (i.e. both male and female) and become fully mature at about 3 years old (80 to 90mm in length). Spawning occurs in the warmer months, from April to September. The species can grow to more than 20cm in length and live for more than 20 years, although average sizes are in the range of 10-16cm.

Stock information

Criterion score: 1 info

Stock Area


Stock information

There are no reference points to tell if the stock is overfished or undergoing overfishing. Therefore, trends in the biomass and fishing mortality have been used to assess the state of the stock. The main area assessed has a declining trend in biomass.

This area (ICES Sub-Division 4a) includes three main stocks: part of the Orkney stock, Shetland and the North-East stock. Only the North East stock is assessed because Orkney stock represents a small proportion of landings and has insufficient data to evaluate stock trends. Shetlands are assessed in a separate assessment.

In the Northeast area, the Spawning Stock Biomass (SSB) has declined sharply in recent years and recruitment has declined over the last five years and recruitment in 2015 and 2016 was particularly low. Fishing mortality has fluctuated without trend over the last ten years. King scallops are considered to have a medium resilience to fishing pressure.


Criterion score: 0.75 info

New management has been implemented into the fishery that follows scientific advice, however, it is too soon to tell how effective these are and management does not include a catch limit or suitable measures to protect the habitat.

Marine Scotland manages Scottish stocks in its territorial waters. There are six Regional Inshore Fishing Groups (RIFGs) that help define management measures within their districts. Scallops are managed under a harvest strategy in Scottish waters which is based on stock trends.

Scottish scallop fisheries are not subject to EU or national Total Allowable Catches. However, in June 2017, new management measures were enacted in Scottish waters (Regulation of Scallop Fishing (Scotland) Order 2017). Management measures included a increased minimum landing size of 105mm, licence requirements for vessels over 10m in length, some effort restrictions, some spatial closures, fishing gear restrictions which are more restrictive in inshore, shallower waters.

There are Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) under the European Natura 2000 and proposed Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) under the UK Marine Act. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) have committed to Good Environmental Statusa for the seafloor habitat by year 2020.The EU habitats directive and OSPAR defines priority habitat e.g. for biogenic reefs, maerl beds, horse mussel beds and other reef habitats) can be protected or are going through this process.

Scottish regional scallop stock assessments are conducted by Marine Scotland Science (MSS) using fishery dependent (e.g. surveys in processoras factories) and fishery-independent (e.g. research vessel surveys) survey data. Trends are deduced on fishing mortality, biomass, abundance (pre-recruits and adults) and recruitment. Vessel Monitoring Systemas data are collected only every two hours which significantly reduces the ability to monitor fishing in relation to Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). However, Electronic Monitoring System (EMS) may help advise management regarding bycatch, the stock status and will help enforce management measures in the fishery.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 1 info

Whilst there are some closed areas, and the UK Good Practice guide for scallop fishermen requires that impacts to the seabed are minimized, there are insufficient measures to protect inshore habitats.

Bycatch changes depending on the area but generally include a mixture of invertebrates and mainly impact brown crabs. Dredges that use teeth to collect scallops are among the most damaging as they can cause around 20-30% mortality among bycatch species. However, most (around 75%) of the megafauna that scallop dredges interact with remains on the seafloor and is not recorded in bycatch surveys.

Endangered, Threatened and Protected (ETP) species
There is a lack of research on the interactions between the scallop fishery and ETP species in this area but the Shetland scallop fishery have been reported catching common skate, angel shark and porbeagle shark. More monitoring and management is required to reduce the risk to these species. Implementing more durable belly-ring materials at these larger sizes, better monitoring and real-time areas have been methods recommended to improve the selectivity of the fishery.

Out of all tested bottom trawled gears, scallop dredging having the greatest negative impact across all habitat types. Dredging reduces biodiversity, particularly in fragile or sensitive habitats and homogenise the seabed. Damage may increase with the number of dredge tows performed and causes the most depletion out of surveyed bottom gears (removing 41% of biota and penetrating the seabed by an average of 16.1cm).

To mitigate damage to habitats, there are Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) under the European Natura 2000 and proposed Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) under the UK Marine Act. Around 23% of Scottish waters are covered by Marine Protected areas (MPA)s however, scallop dredging is only banned in 4.4% of Scottish inshore waters (within 12 nautical miles of the coast). Progress has been made, but further MPAs are required to protect vulnerable habitats, particularly for deep-water coral reefs and sensitive habitats such as flame shell beds. MCS recommends greater inshore fisheries management and that evidence is urgently required, as a requirement of Scotland’s National Marine Plan, to ensure that ‘priority marine features’ are not significantly impacted by fishing activity and inshore waters undergo low-impact fishing.

The scallop fishery here is known to overlap with Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), but it is not clear by how much. For these specific components, MCS considers dredging in MPAs as a default red rating unless there is evidence indicating the activity does not damage the integrity of the site.


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