Diving for scallops is one of the most sustainable fishing methods, with each scallop picked up by hand causing no damage to the surrounding marine habitat.

Juliet Knight and Guy Grieve founded The Ethical Shellfish Company on the Isle of Mull in 2010 with the aim of creating a fishing company with a difference – one that would put ethics at the very centre of its priorities.

Using its boat Invictus, one of the smallest registered fishing boats in the UK, The Ethical Shellfish Company started dive fishing for king scallops and delivering them to chefs in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The business expanded rapidly and was soon supplying produce to some of the best and well-known chefs across the UK including Chef Raymond Blanc OBE.

Juliet Knight, Director of The Ethical Shellfish Company provides an insight into the work of the business and how sustainability plays a key role throughout its entire supply chain.

Juliet Knight headshot

Juliet Knight, Director of The Ethical Shellfish Company

Sustainable fishing

The entire team at the Ethical Shellfish Company are lovers of the sea and as a business we have committed to not sourcing or selling seafood that comes at the cost of Scotland’s marine environment.

Invasive fishing methods can have a drastic and devastating effect on the delicate marine ecosystems and habitat. There is good evidence to suggest that this, along with overfishing, is responsible for the decline of our white fish stocks.

By only selling produce that has been caught sustainably, either hand dived, line caught or using creels, we are limiting the impact that we, as a business, are having on the marine environment. We can only hope that this will help ensure that there are fish in the sea for future generations.

Life at The Ethical Shellfish Company

Our company was founded on dive fishing, and for many years that’s what we did – dive fish four to five days a week, with a shore team sending the scallops out to market.

Back then our working day would start very early, typically around 5 or 6am. The dive team would take it in turns to drop to the seabed and search for scallops, with each dive typically lasting between 20 and 40 minutes.

Each person repeated this process three times per day, with a dedicated period in between for decompression. It is incredibly hard work, often swimming against strong currents, and the cold water takes its toll, especially in the winter. However, the job is also very rewarding, and the divers were all captivated by beauty of the sea and its marine life.

At first, we dive fished for all our own scallops from a tiny RIB. Then as we expanded and demand increased, we began to purchase produce from other local dive fishermen.

In 2016 we upsized to a bigger (although still tiny) Orkney built fishing boat. This made a huge difference as there was a wheelhouse for shelter and a tiny stove for morale boosting cups of tea!

Then in 2018 we bought a second boat which helped us to increase the number of scallops we were able to catch ourselves. Unfortunately, when Covid hit last year, we had to sell one of the boats. Our second boat is still out of the water – with business just beginning to pick up, we have made the decision for the time being to support other fishermen rather than fishing ourselves.

When Covid struck we had to think on our feet, and in order to keep trading began a home delivery service. We began by taking our beautiful scallops to customers in Glasgow and Edinburgh, using social media to spread the word, and ran the whole operation as a family. In time we expanded our range to include other shellfish, including langoustine, crab and lobster, and used couriers to reach customers throughout the UK. All of the shellfish was caught by small local creel and dive fishing boats working in or around the Isle of Mull. We set up a website and online ordering system and began selling other produce from Mull and the Highlands including meat, cheese and charcuterie.

Like-minded partners

It is important to us that we work with other small artisan producers who share our values and have the same passion and commitment to what they do.

For example, we work with Isle of Mull Cheese, a family-run dairy farm which produces delicious award-winning cheeses. The Sgriob-ruadh Farm commits to the highest standards of quality, wellbeing, and sustainability, including using wood, wind and water to help create green energy enabling them to run on 100% green electricity which is generated on site.

Another business we work with is Gigha Halibut, which is pioneering a different way of farming fish in containers on land while helping to preserve a fish that is endangered in the wild.

We aim to provide additional routes to market for all our producers, and to make more people aware of their fantastic produce.

Supply and demand

More and more people are interested in learning where their food has come from and want to support local producers rather than buying big brands. There is a very strong appetite for food and products that have been produced by businesses with a commitment to quality and wellbeing.

Initially, people bought from small artisan companies to support them through the pandemic, but in doing so many have discovered that they are purchasing higher quality and tastier produce. Shoppers have found a rewarding way of buying their food, with more connection to the source of what they buy and eat.

And it’s not just the public that are invested in their food’s journey, but large venues and restaurants are also becoming increasingly interested.

Many venues are now looking to implement more locally sourced and sustainable menus. For those starting out on this journey, I’d recommend researching small producers within the local area and making direct contact with them. It will be obvious whether they have a real passion for their produce and commitment to what they do.

Alternatively, products can be purchased through a wholesaler. This may be cheaper, but the products they are selling may not be genuine. There have been many examples of wholesalers marketing scallops as ‘hand dived’, when in fact they have not been caught using sustainable methods. Simply asking for evidence of boat numbers could eliminate this concern.

If more people and businesses choose to purchase produce that has been caught using sustainable practices, it will help influence the way food is fished or farmed and change it for the better. Customers will also appreciate this, and businesses will have a better story to tell on their menus.

To find out more visit - www.ethicalshellfishcompany.co.uk