Is a scallop the ultimate starter? A palm-sized purse of salty, ozone-sweet shellfish, served on its own ‘design-classic’ of a platter. It’s a chef’s delight – which is why restaurants globally clamour for the succulent flesh, fresh from the briny blue sea.

But it’s also why both the industry and consumers have been less than scrupulous in the past about worrying how and from where, we fish scallops.

There’s growing evidence that the traditional method of dredging is causing long-term harm to fisheries by scooping up a lot of by-catch – and scouring the seabed into the bargain.

But on the picture postcard Isle of Mull – where deep, cold, current-swept waters flow – grow some of the finest King Scallops you’ll get on your plate. And Guy Grieve believes the only responsible way to collect them is to personally pick them up off the seabed.

Most days of the week, you’ll find Guy aboard the Helanda, trying to find the perfect spot in the Sound of Mull to catch scallops for his Ethical Shellfish Company. Once aboard, these plump shellfish will be in the kitchens of some of the UK’s – and the world’s – finest restaurants within 20 hours.

“We’ve had great support right from the start, five years ago,” he tells me on a sparkling autumn morning as we chug out to a patch of water that usually proves home to a good crop of mature scallops.“Restaurants like Scott’s (London) and Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons (Raymond Blanc’s two Michelin star restaurant) backed us right from the start, which was amazing. And it made us realise we really were on to something. We now have a great network of high-end restaurants willing to pay a little extra for our scallops because of the quality they are getting. That, in turn, means it’s possible to fish in a much more sustainable way.”

The Ethical Shellfish Company – as its name suggests – is leading the way in sustainable fishing aimed at protecting both stocks of shellfish and the seabed they grow on – itself a bellwether ecosystem for a myriad of species.

“At first it was just me, diving the scallops then driving them down to London all the way from the Hebrides!’ says Guy. ‘It was exhausting, but I built up a good client base and now we are a seven-strong dive team. Every one of my divers believes passionately in the sea and the need to protect what’s in it. Only when we can do this as an industry can we be safe in the knowledge that the amazing resource that is our coastal shellfish will be available for future generations.”

J Sheekey of Covent Garden is a renowned London seafood restaurant and a long-time customer of The Ethical Shellfish Company. The executive chef of the Caprice Holdings group, Tim Hughes’s favourite scallop recipe is a seared scallop dish with pancetta and crispy garlic mint crumbs and lemon butter sauce.

“I love cooking with scallops,” Tim says, “especially the hand-dived ones like those we get from Guy Grieve. They are very versatile – you can eat them raw, they’re great with Asian spices, fried with chilli garlic butter, mopping up the butter with warm, freshly baked bread.“There is no fat on scallops and the hand-dived ones are particularly firm and taste ridiculously fresh. If you close your eyes, you could be in Mull, eating them straight from the sea.”

Which is what Guy and I do once he’s clambered back on board the Helanda. We head landwards and once back in his kitchen outside Tobermory with a glass of chilled Muscadet, we simply flash-fry a handful of scallops – at the bottom of the sea just minutes earlier – in garlic butter.

The smell is appetizing, but it’s nothing compared to their taste. The luxury of lobster, the fibrous sweetness of crab and the resistant ‘crunch’ of langoustine all combine in one stunning seafood package. If this is the future of British seafood, it’s worth fighting for.

 

Find out more about the Ethical Shellfish Company here |www.ethicalshellfish.co.uk