Reports of Abundant Young Shellfish Bode Well For City Fishery

By Don Cuddy
New Bedford Standard-Times

NEW BEDFORD — The city’s scallop industry received a double-dose of good news, as two scientific studies found strong scallop stocks and high numbers of young shellfish on Georges Bank.
“This is a really important resource, and it’s good news when two independent surveys agree,” said Kevin Stokesbury, chairman of the Department of Fisheries Oceanography at the School of Marine Science and Technology at UMass Dartmouth, which undertook one of the studies.
Using six commercial fishing vessels, the SMAST video survey ran from April to June and covered around 37,000 square miles of ocean bottom.
“The take-home message is that fishermen had a good year yet the stocks remain pretty much the same,” Stokesbury said.
The other survey, released Monday, was conducted by scientists at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, aboard the 146-foot research vessel Hugh Sharp, using an 8-foot sea scallop dredge with a mesh liner to retain small seed scallops, in addition to deploying a high-resolution underwater camera between tows.
Researchers discovered very high numbers of juvenile sea scallops in the Great South Channel and on the northern edge of Georges Bank this year, the highest seen on Georges Bank since 2000. “I believe it’s cyclical,” said Dvora Hart, operational research manager at NEFSC, who conducted the survey for NOAA. “We have records going back to the ’50s. Since the modern era of surveys began in the late ’70s we see that every 10 years or so there are a couple of years of very strong recruitment.”
Using the camera system for the first time also provided NOAA scientists a more complete picture of the bottom, Hart said.
“We used a digital camera equipped with strobes and sonar, two meters off the bottom, and that gave us a lot more detail,” she said.
“A dredge is only going to get 40 percent of the scallops in its path.”
Abundant juvenile scallops are about 2 years old and would need a further three years of growth before attaining the legal size for harvesting, according to Hart.
“This is very good news for the future of the fishery,” said Roy Enoksen of Eastern Fisheries in New Bedford, which operates 23 scallopers. “If you don’t take care of the babies, then you don’t get the adults. I think this shows we have a great fishery that is being well-managed.”
New Bedford is perennially rated the nation’s top seafood seaport for overall value of its catch, a ranking that is primarily due to the large number of high-priced scallops landed.
While the scallop numbers found in both surveys are strong, the abundance of young scallops might result in another offshore area being closed, Hart said.
“The plan now calls for closing an area north of the Asia Rip, between the Nantucket Lightship and Closed Area 1 for three years,” she said.
The Northeast Fisheries Management Council will be asked to vote on the proposal in the fall, after which it will require approval from the Secretary of Commerce, with the closing likely to begin on June 15.
The surveys also revealed that conditions in the mid-Atlantic region differed significantly from the Northeast. While the overall biomass remains high, there were much fewer seed scallops.
“There were plenty of adults, but poor recruitment. The numbers were the worst since 1997,” Hart said. “It’s not clear what that means but it’s of some concern. We might be seeing the end of an environmental regime.”
August 18, 2009
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