A ban on catching King scallops off parts of the Pembrokeshire coastline has led to the species increasing its numbers by 12 times since the year 2000, marine scientists have discovered.
In 1990, removing King scallops (Pecten maximus) by any means was prohibited across the Skomer Marine Conservation Zone after a drop in numbers due to extensive fishing from dredgers and hand collectors.
Specialists from Natural Resources Wales, who monitor the waters around Skomer, carried out a survey in 2022 of the King scallops – the sixth survey since 2000.
Scallops were collected, measured and aged by counting their growth rings before being released, alive, back to the waters.
A report into the survey was released earlier this year and showed the numbers of King scallops living in these waters had increased 12-fold since the initial survey in 2000. The age range of the scallops were between 3 to 12 years old showing a healthy and thriving population present.
And scientists also found the ban on catching scallops has also helped improve the habitat shared by a multitude of other creatures.
The sediment on the seabed where King scallops live has become a thriving habitat for a variety of species with more than 1,000 different creatures found, making it one of the most diverse sediment habitats in the UK.
Ali Massey, a marine environmental assessment officer with NRW, took part in the survey.
“The results from each survey since 2000 have shown an increase in numbers and it was wonderful to find that the scallop population at Skomer continues to grow,” she said.
“Importantly the sediment habitat where the scallops are found now also supports an increase in other wildlife.
“Animals that live here are either brilliantly camouflaged to help them stay alive, or they survive by burrowing beneath the sediment; creatures like worms, burrowing anemones and tiny shrimp-like creatures called amphipods.
“The results speak for themselves. This is great news for both the scallops and other animals found in the sediment habitats and really does highlight the benefit of areas protected from scallop fishing,” added Ali.
Scallops themselves are also considered as ‘micro habitats’ as they have a whole host of animals attached to their shells including barnacles, sponges and sea squirts.
Even dead scallop shells provide homes to numerous species of crabs, brittle stars, and baby sea urchins, while small marine fish called butterfly blennies use the empty shells to hide and lay eggs.
NRW’s Head of Marine, Rhian Jardine said the findings were positive news.
“The scale and rate of biodiversity loss across the nation is accelerating terrestrially and in the marine, impacting on species that depend upon our natural resources,” she said.
“Restoring nature for nature’s sake is in everyone’s interests.”