Whelks are a marine snail native to the North Atlantic. They can be found along the coastlines of Europe, North America from New Jersey northward and parts of the Arctic including Greenland and Iceland. Whelks are usually found partially buried in the ocean floor, from the low water mark of the intertidal zone down to depths of 1,200 metres.
Whelks have a heavy, spiral-shaped shell with a pointed tip. Their shell is covered with wavy lines, and their shell opening has an oval shape. The shell varies in colour from grey to a yellow or tan, and their body is white with a mottling of black. They can grow to a maximum width of 10 cm. Whelks are popularly consumed steamed with a light vinegar dressing.
Whelks reach sexual maturity at five to seven years. In Canada, whelks breed from mid-May to the beginning of July. Two to four weeks later, female whelks will lay their eggs in protective capsules, attached to rocks, shells or stones. Each capsule contains as many as 1,000 eggs, and the capsules of several females are grouped together in large masses of over 2,000. Only a few of these eggs will develop, though, as most are used as a source of food by the growing embryos. Whelks have no free-swimming larval stage; instead, the young emerge from the capsules after five to eight months as tiny, fully developed whelks. The life cycle of European whelks is slightly different than their Canadian counterparts due to colder winter ocean temperatures in Canada.
This fishery uses traps covered with nylon or wire netting submerged on the seafloor to catch whelk. Traps are attached to lines and marked by floats on the surface. The traps attract whelks with bait and capture them live.