Every winter, hundreds of boats leave the ports of the Bay of Saint-Brieuc - Paimpol - Les Caps destination to fish for the most popular shellfish in the region: the Coquille Saint-Jacques scallop.
The white gold of the Côtes d'Armor
From October to March, nearly 6,000 tonnes of scallops are fished from Loguivy-de-la-Mer, Saint-Quay-Portrieux and Erquy, ports, located on the most productive deposit in France, spread over 150,000 hectares.
This precious resource is strictly governed by legislation that ensures its protection and proper reproduction. As such, the fishermen – holders of a specific licence – can make use of 45 minutes of fishing per day, at a rate of two days per week. Though the scallops are mainly collected by dredging (a name given to the metallic device, in the form of a pocket and composed of rings, dragged along the seabed to collect buried shells), a small section of the profession has become specialised in diving fishing, a more artisanal practice.
Set sail immediately with one of the 11 local licence-holders!
Diving to fish for scallops
To experience this technique, I put on my best boots and headed out to Saint-Quay-Portrieux, home of Ki Dour Mor, where the team that has been working there for three years awaited me. Heading up the team, Victor Coutin and his wise Aurélie. This former sailor working aboard trawlers has reconciled his passion for diving with his work by creating the underwater fishing activity – all in accordance with his values, by committing to truly sustainable and ecological fishing. After an outing cancelled due to strong winds, it was in the company of Kenan and Wally – the two divers – and Gildas, the pilot, that I set out that morning for one of the two weekly shellfishing sessions.
Heading out on the water
After a few dozen minutes of slightly hectic navigation, the boat stabilised and the divers geared up in the rain. The launch is scheduled for 13:45 sharp, during the slack when the current between two tides is almost non-existent. At the set time, the two bravest ones immerse themselves in 13°C water for two hours (the legal duration for diving fishing) with bottle of Nitrox, a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen that allows them to stay longer underwater and considerably reduces decompression.
With Gildas, we patiently wait a few minutes before the professional's keen eyes see the first orange parachute appear on the surface. At its end, one of the eight 30 kg bags brought to the surface by the divers. At this point, everything starts to accelerate: Gildas steers the boat towards it, grabs it with a hook bar and then empties its contents into one of the boat's many bins. The second parachute doesn't take long to appear, and the manoeuvre starts again, over the course of an hour – after which Kenan and Wally get back into the boat to change bottles, take back their bags and start again.
Return to the port
Meanwhile, Gildas doesn't sit still for a second as I scan the horizon for the precious parachutes. He empties the nets, starts sorting and cleaning the shells – which are then stored according to size (from 11 to 13 cm) and customer orders (fish wholesalers, individuals and restaurant owners) placed on the Ki Dour Mor website.
After two hours of work, the 450 kg authorised for this fishing outing (against 1.20 tons for dredge fishermen) are on board, ready to be sent to their recipients the next morning and will be in the homes of consumers within 24 hours.
We return to the port, where I leave them as the day begins to fade and the rain falls, but the work is far from over for the three men who will continue to sort before organising the day's harvest into baskets. The next day, another type of fishing awaits them – this time, for abalone – which these professionals also practise three times a week in addition to scallop fishing.
This dive, with the very friendly crew of Ki Dour Mor, allowed me to discover a new type of fishing – ensuring quality and sustainability – in the company of passionate sailors who value their products, while taking care of the marine flora and fauna of the natural, classified deposit of the Bay of Saint-Brieuc. Theirs is a truly respectful approach that appeals to many professionals today, including Michelin-starred chefs!
Aurélie Tiercin (also known thanks to her Blog Lalydo Breizh Life) invites you to follow her on her beautiful, gastronomic escapades through the Bay of Saint-Brieuc - Paimpol - Les Caps Destination! Her aim? To offer you the secrets of our best local products and specialities. Articles to make your mouth water and ignite a desire to meet new people: a fisherman, a pancake maker, a cider maker, a saffron producer, or even an expert on seaweed, both on the foreshore and in the kitchen! Are you a foodie? Are you always ready to learn more? Well then, you'll love it!