JP McMahon: Why is it illegal to hand-dive for scallops?
Instead, in Ireland, we can only dredge, which does serious damage to the seabed
In Scotland they have the intelligence to allow hand-diving for scallops. Photograph: Getty
A year ago I wrote a column on hand-dived Irish scallops in this magazine, arguing that not only is it illegal to dive for them, it is also not possible to sell them in the shell. The latter is illegal because there is no testing centre in Ireland, and so you can’t sell them in their shell (The reason we get oysters in their shell is because we do have a test centre for them. Can you imagine buying an oyster out of its shell?) However, the former is a ludicrous denial of a gracious aspect of our ancient love for shellfish.
Now we can only dredge and tear up the whole seabed in search of our scallops. Not so in Scotland, where they have the intelligence to allow hand-diving for scallops.
I recently received some wonderful ones from Niall Sabongi. Though we usually restrict ourselves to Irish products in Aniar (apart from sugar and white flour, as we don’t produce either in Ireland), I decided to dip my toes in Scottish waters. Is not the Irish Sea Irish, after all? Who knows.
I shucked these wonderful beings, all pulsating in their loveliness, trembling flesh still billowing for breath. These were so good, so moist, there was no need to even cook them. Robbie, my sous chef at Aniar, removed their roes and dried them. Then we sliced them into four, dressed them with oil and seaweed vinegar (sugar kelp seaweed plus 3:2:1 – vinegar:water:sugar) and salt (from Achill island), then grated the dried roe over the entire scallop. Lastly we placed a little pepper dulse on top: five delicate strands (where would we be without Irish seaweed?)
Served in the cleaned shell, I was proud to say this dish was a culmination of seven years of Aniar: a beautiful product, served simply, representing the west of Ireland. Except the hand-dived scallop wasn’t from the west. Because that’s illegal.
Can someone get the ball rolling and sort out our hand-dived scallop problem?