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Forward Thinking Measures To Benefit Scallop Fishermen and Resource

Extended area closures and quota cuts proposed to protect young Atlantic sea scallops and increase future revenues

NOAA Fisheries is currently reviewing several new management measures developed by the New England Fishery Management Council, including proposed reductions in quotas for the 2013 fishing year and measures to protect young Atlantic sea scallops.

Atlantic sea scallops on the ocean floor. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries

"We have a long term vision for this resource and confidence in our research surveys that show we had unprecedented recruitment (abundance of young scallops) in the Mid-Atlantic in 2012," said scallop industry representative, Peter Hughes of Atlantic Capes Fisheries. "However, in the near term, we are going to have to tighten our belts to give these young scallops a chance to grow to marketable size to maximize revenues and ensure sustainability of this valuable resource."

Scallops can grow quickly if left undisturbed in just a few years, which can increase revenues for fishing vessels.  Photo credit:  NOAA Fisheries

The council recommended that, beginning in May 2013, quotas for the Atlantic sea scallop limited access fishery be reduced by 35 percent compared to 2012 (from 23,546 mt to 15,324 mt) and quotas for fishermen participating in the individual fishing quota program would be reduced by 32 percent (1,404 mt to 1,010 mt). 

Some fishermen would also see the number of trips they can take into special access areas reduced by half in 2013, and cuts in the amount of fish they are allowed to keep on each fishing trip.  These decreases are necessary to avoid overharvesting of the scallop resource.   Two special access areas would remain closed to protect young sea scallops in the Mid-Atlantic.   NOAA closed both areas in 2012 under emergency action, at the request of the fishing industry.

Annual surveys of the scallop resource conducted by NOAA Fisheries, the Virginia Institute for Maine Science and the School of Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, showed a high number of small scallops in 2012, particularly in the Mid-Atlantic.  In recent history, the only year when the number of small scallops was greater was in 2001.  These scallops, if allowed to grow unharmed, will be large enough to harvest in two to three years.

Because the scallop fishery is profitable, they are able to set aside a portion of their annual allocation to focus on research.  One research project developed with SMAST has benefited both scallop and groundfish fishermen.  Scallop fishermen and SMAST scientists have developed a means for effectively avoiding vulnerable yellowtail flounder stocks, which fishermen catch inadvertently when fishing for scallops in some areas.  This involves communicating among vessels, so they can avoid "hot spots."  The ability to avoid yellowtail flounder has enabled the industry to help fellow fishermen in the groundfish industry.  In 2012, working through the council, new measures were put in place to allow scallop vessels to transfer any unused yellowtail flounder allocation to struggling groundfish fishermen.

“What’s behind the success of this fishery?” said John Bullard, regional administrator, Northeast, NOAA Fisheries.  “Quite simply, it’s an example of where fishermen, scientists and managers  have  worked together to bring back a resource that once was in trouble – partnering in science to learn more about scallop abundance and  embracing a rotational management approach that is focused on sustainability.”