What is scampi? Why Scottish environmentalists are urging people to avoid the fried seafood favourite
Open Seas says that for every kilo of scampi caught by bottom trawlers, another kilogram of marine life is killed and thrown away
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Shoppers, restaurant-goers and supermarkets are being urged to give scampi a miss over its “big environmental price tag” - until the UK's fishery is managed more sustainably.
Scottish charity Open Seas has launched a new campaign calling on supermarkets to “take genuine action for the environment” by refusing to stock the popular seafood product. It is writing to UK supermarkets to alert them to the damage bottom-trawling for scampi is doing to the marine environment, with spokesman Nick Underdown saying that "business as usual" is no longer an option for our vulnerable seas.
Scotland is one of the world's leading scampi producers, and its seafood authority has hit back. It says that fishers are already working on addressing many of the issues Open Seas has raised - like reducing bycatch - and that its commercial scampi fishery is already governed by strict rules.
But what exactly is scampi, and why harm do campaigners say is being done to the environment to ensure a ready supply at the grocery store? Here's everything you need to know.
What is scampi?
Scampi is the commercial name for deep-fried langoustine tails. Langoustines - also sometimes called Norway lobsters or Dublin Bay prawns - are a species of small lobster with the scientific name Nephrops norvegicus.
Found across the Northeast Atlantic Ocean and in parts of the Mediterranean, around half of the langoustines caught each year in commercial fisheries come from fisheries operating in UK waters - most of them around Scotland. Scottish Government figures show 18,000 tonnes of Nephrops were caught by trawlers last year, worth £67 million.
The crustaceans typically grow up to about 20cm long, making them considerably smaller than the better-known European lobster which can grow up to 60cm and weigh up to six kilograms. The species itself is not thought to be of conservation concern, with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listing it as 'least concern'. However, pressure from intensive fishing has occasionally put populations in specific areas at risk.
In the UK, scampi tails are usually served either battered or crumbed and deep-fried, sometimes with chips and tartare sauce, and the species is also prepared and eaten a variety of other ways across Europe. While in Britain the term scampi is legally used to describe langoustine, it's also worth noting that in the US the term refers to a seafood dish - which can also be made with other shrimp, prawn, or lobster species.
Does eating scampi harm the environment?
According to Scottish charity Open Seas, for every kilo of scampi caught by bottom-trawling - a controversial fishing practice where weighted nets are dragged along the seafloor - at least another kilogram of marine life is killed and discarded.
“This bite-size food comes with a big environmental price tag for our seas," campaign head Nick Underdown told PA. “The mesh of the bottom-trawl nets used [is] particularly narrow, which means that large volumes of other sea life are caught, killed and wasted. We think customers will want to know the hidden and unsustainable cost of scampi and take action.”
The campaign is asking supermarkets to avoid stocking scampi products until a number of criteria are met - including limiting the areas trawlers can operate to avoid disrupting coastal fish nurseries and spawning areas. Open Seas also wants all fishing boats effectively monitored so bycatch can be recorded, and for bycatch to be cut down to a practical minimum.
Open Seas said that because of the highly damaging nature of the fishing process, Scotland's seafood industry had put a Fishery Improvement Project in place to address bycatch problems. However it said that after nearly five years, there had been no effective changes to how the fishery was managed.
In response, Seafood Scotland chief executive Donna Fordyce told PA: “All Scottish vessels adhere to stringent legislation in terms of trawling and rightly so, the fisheries being described by Open Seas are not behaviours we recognise.” Ms Fordyce said reducing bycatch was “high priority” for the seafood industry and there were robust rules in place governing commercial fishing.
She added that vessels fishing for langoustines used "highly selective nets, which include large escape panels in the roof" for this reason. However, she said some vessels fishing off of the east coast of Scotland were “deliberately” targeting multiple species within their quota, and referring to all non-langoustine species as “bycatch” was “misleading”.