Every winter, hundreds of boats leave port in the Bay of St Brieuc-Paimpol-Les Caps to fish for the region’s most prized shellfish: Scallops
The white gold of the Côtes d’Armor
From October to March, around 6000 tonnes of scallops are fished from the ports of Loguivy-de-la-Mer, Saint-Quay-Portrieux and Erquy, situated on the most productive scallop beds in France, covering 150,000 hectares
This precious resource is strictly governed by legislation which ensures its protection and reproduction. This is why the fishers, who are specially licensed, are allotted only 45 minutes’ fishing, twice a week. The scallops are mainly collected by dredging - using a piece of equipment made up of metal rings to form a pocket which is dragged along the sea bed to unearth the scallops. However, a small number of fishers specialise in scallop diving, which is a more artisanal practice.
Diving for scallops
Pulling on my best wellington boots, I headed to Saint-Quay-Portrieux, home port of the Ki Dour Mor, to meet the crew who have been operating here for the last three years. Leading the team are Victor Coutin and his wife Aurélie. A former trawler fisherman, Victor has combined his passion for diving with his profession by working as a fisher-diver which reflects his values by creating an activity that is sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Maximum 2 hour dives
After one trip was cancelled due to high winds, I took to the sea this morning alongside Kenan and Wally, the two divers, and captain Gildas, for one of the two weekly scallop fishing slots. After about 10 minutes of choppiness, the boat stabilised and the divers geared up in the rain. Entry into the water is planned for exactly 1.45, at slack-water, between low and high tide. At the appointed hour, the two courageous divers are submerged in 13-degree water for 2 hours (the legal limit for dive fishing) using tanks filled with Nitrox, a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen which allows them to stay underwater longer and considerably reduces their decompression stops.
We wait patiently with Gildas for a few minutes before his professional eye spots the first orange parachute appear on the surface. On the other end is one of the 8 sacks of 30 kilogrammes collected by the divers. This is when everything speeds up. Gildas brings the boat near and uses a hooked bar to get hold of the sack, then empties the contents into one of the many bins on the vessel. The second parachute soon appears, and the manoeuvres continue for an hour, when Kenan and Wally climb back on the boat to change tanks, collect their sacks and set off again for more diving.
Back to port
During this time, Gildas doesn’t waste a second while I scan the surface for the precious parachutes. He empties the nets, starts sorting, and cleans the scallops which are then grouped according to their size (from 11 to 13 centimetres) and the orders from fishmongers, restaurateurs and individual buyers received via the Ki Dour Mor website.
After two hours of hard toil, the authorised 450 kg catch is on board. In comparison, the drag fishers are allowed 1.2 tonnes. The scallops are ready to be sent to the buyers the next morning, and will be available to the consumer in less than 24 hours.
We head back to port under the rain as the day draws to a close. The working day is far from over, however, for the three men who will carry on sorting and filling the baskets with the day’s catch. A different type of fishing awaits them the next day - abalone - which the professionals also fish three times a week in addition to scallops.
© Text by : Aurélie Tiercin