Scotland’s Most Adventurous Scallop Diver

Staff Writer
Scotland’s Most Adventurous Scallop Diver
Michelle Kiefer

The road to getting a dived scallop is peppered with many pitfalls.

Guy Grieve is, at heart, an adventurer. Back in 2004, he left his nine-to-five job to live alone in Alaska, later spent a year on a boat with his family, and has done stints as a writer and a TV personality. These days, as the co-founder of the Ethical Shellfish Company, his life is governed by the rhythms of the sea. Grieve is a scallop diver working off the coast of the Isle of Mull, Scotland’s third largest island. The type of fishing he practices is nearly primitive in its simplicity: diving into the frigid waters of the Sound of Mull to hand-pick scallops from the ocean floor. But it’s not for the adrenaline rush that Grieve goes to extremes for his business. As the name of their company implies, Grieve and his wife Juliet are motivated by ethics. They have become champions of the sustainable seafood movement, practicing a harvest method that does no damage to the marine environment. Their strong sense of environmental responsibility has garnered both environmental and culinary recognition, and chefs across Britain swear by their scallops. We spoke with Grieve about his work and vision one late summer day onboard his boat the Helanda.

How did you get started diving for scallops?

Back in 2007, my wife and I bought a second-hand boat and decided to go and live a year at sea with our two boys. It was an utterly humbling and frightening experience, and frankly if I had known more about boats I wouldn’t have done it.

When we got back to Britain, it was as if it had been hit by a nuclear bomb. It was during the economic crisis, and we were in financial trouble, with only 500 pounds left in our bank account. So we sold the boat and two old scallop divers let me come fish with them. They were the ones who introduced me to the esoteric art of diving for scallops. It was through this education that I saw the damage that was being done at sea, and was inspired to do things differently. [My wife and I] started the Ethical Shellfish Company in 2010. When we first started, we had the smallest registered fishing boat in Scotland.

What’s unique about your harvest method?

It’s a simple form of fishing, artisanal in its absolute essence: you are the fishing equipment. We destroy nothing to get that scallop, and everything is individually harvested, hand graded, and chosen for our chefs.

Is it dangerous? What is it like to dive for scallops?

The road to getting a dived scallop is peppered with many pitfalls. You get hooked on finding them, but during each dive you get to a point where you look at your oxygen levels and realize, if I stay any longer, I’m going to die. Three to four times per day, you have to come face-to-face with your own puniness in the scheme of things. You have to remind yourself, it’s just scallops, and I have two children I need to return home to tonight.

Explain the philosophy behind what you do. Why practice this form of fishing?

To me, the scallop is an ancient logo that represents two different ways of looking at the sea. This sea has been feeding these islands for thousands of years. This environment, if you look after it, will look after us. We need to manage the seas better.

Having a fishing license is like having the keys to a garden, and we can pick the apples without trampling the flowers. It’s a powerful position, taking from a wild place, and we do what we do out of self-respect and respect for the sea that feeds us.

Where can diners find your scallops?

In Edinburgh, we work with restaurants such as the WitcheryTower, OndineCafe St. Honore, and many others. In the early days, the chefs who supported us were like hot coals that kept us warm. We’ve been going for four years, and have won an award every year. But it’s not thanks to us — it’s Northwest Scotland. You can’t be a good gardener without a good garden.