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Normandy Fishermen Decry Scallop Policy


In France, October means the beginning of scallop season. Fishermen have begun dragging their nets on the seabed off the coasts of Normandy and Brittany, the site of Europe's largest scallop fishery. France is the world's largest consumer of scallops, giving local fishermen a lucrative domestic market. Now a dispute over the naming of the shellfish has many Norman fishermen crying foul. Eleanor Beardsley reports.

(Soundbite of birds)


About halfway between the D-Day beaches of Omaha and Arromanches lies the tiny Norman port town of Port en Bessin(ph). It's mid-morning and the boats are returning from the sea to unload their catch.

Mr. DMITRI ROGOFF: (Through Translator) My name is Dmitri Rogoff(ph), captain of the boat Savage(ph), and I'm Norman. I became a fisherman by chance, but it's a job that I love, and I think it's exceptional. You can come and go as you please, and you have the whole sea to discover as you spend your days looking for fish and shellfish.

(Soundbite of birds, people speaking French)

BEARDSLEY: The scallops Rogoff and the other fishermen harvest are actually the giant pecten maximus, or Coquille St. Jacques, the much larger and higher-value cousin of the North American scallop, which is known here as a patonkla(ph). Alive in their shells, the difference between the two is obvious. But a European Union law says that once removed from their shells and sold frozen, the meat of both can be referred to as St. Jacques. Arno Menet(ph), a director of quality control for a Normandy seafood brand, says this is a misnomer that threatens the livelihood of the local fishermen.

Mr. ARNO MENET: (Through Translator) At certain times during the year, we don't even sell all of our production because there's so much competition from imported scallops that use the name St. Jacques.

BEARDSLEY: Captain Rogoff says that it's a shame and he thinks the consumer is being misled.

Mr. ROGOFF: (Through Translator) What bothers me, as a fisherman, is we're tricking the consumers by making them think they're eating Coquille St. Jacques when they're really eating patonklas. So they're taking the image of a gourmet product to sell something that's inferior.

(Soundbite of crates being moved around)

BEARDSLEY: October through May is the most important time of the year for these fishermen who make the bulk of their annual revenue on the shellfish. During the summer months, known as the season of amour, the Coquille St. Jacques are left alone to breed.

(Soundbite of people speaking French)

BEARDSLEY: After being unloaded, the Coquille St. Jacques are sold to wholesalers on the wharf, and within 24 hours they're on sale, still alive, in markets all over France. Back on the docks, Rogoff is happy. He says it's the weekend and his crew has pulled in the maximum quota of 500 pounds of Coquille St. Jacques per man.

(Soundbite of crates being moved around)

BEARDSLEY: He gestures to a crate of the giant rose-colored shells.

Mr. ROGOFF: (Through Translator) This is the real, the unique, the only one in the world, the Coquille St. Jacques, the pecten maximus, the biggest and the most beautiful, and this is the best place in the world to find them.

(Soundbite of birds)

BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.

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