'White gold' on deck of French trawler signals bumper haul of scallops

OFF THE COAST OF NORMANDY, France (Reuters) - On the trawler Thierisa the mood was festive. It was the first day of the scallop season and the deck already groaned with the “white gold” of a bumper season in the waters off northern France.

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At dawn on Nov. 13, Captain Thierry Lefrancois and his crew of four had joined a procession of boats heading offshore from Port-en-Bessin, a fishing village that was the site of a battle during the Allied landing in Normandy in World War Two.

After two and a half hours on turbulent waters, they arrived at the fishing grounds but had to wait until noon and the start of the scallop season at Bay of the Seine. Police helicopters hovered to make sure no nets were lowered early.

Northern France’s season for scallop, or “white gold”, runs from October to mid-May but in Bay of the Seine it starts in November.

At noon, fishermen dropped their dredges. The dragnets scrape the bottom of the bay for 15 to 20 minutes before being pulled up full of large pale shells.

“It’s a miraculous catch,” said Lefrancois after dragging a net-busting 1.7 tonnes of Coquilles Saint Jacques from the waters. “In my 20-year career I have never seen this,” he said, praising the haul’s volume and the size of the scallops.

This year’s scallop haul in France is expected to be four times larger than the average in the past decade, according to marine research agency Ifremer.

Breeding this spring was boosted by a combination of unusually warm waters, an absence of strong winds and good stockpile management, it said.

At the end of the permitted two-hour fish, the armada returned to port, boats low in the water.

Fishermen will sell their catch at around 15 euros ($17.7) for five kilograms on the local market.

The price for Norman scallops will rise to around 10-15 euros a kilogram in Paris where demand is strong for the delicacy, particularly over Christmas as the seafood is a part of traditional festivities in France.

Based on samples taken in July, Ifremer expects another bumper catch next season.

Additional reporting and writing by Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg