VIMS scallop surveys help set catch limits

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     From L: David Rudders, Dr. Bill DuPaul, and graduate student Noelle Yochum aboard a commercial scallop boat during a 2005 monitoring survey.  
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     Scallops are brought onto the deck of the F/V Celtic during a 2008 survey trip.  Photo courtesy Shannah Jaburek/National Marine Fishery Service.
  • Crew of Celtic
    Crew of Celtic  Paul DeMarias, Captain, manages crew sorting scallops on the F/V Celtic during a 2008 survey trip.  Photo by David Rudders/Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
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Beginning July 8, Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) researchers will board industry vessels to conduct scallop surveys in 2 areas typically closed to fishing but scheduled to open for a limited time in spring 2011.

David Rudders and Dr. William DuPaul, Marine Scientists at VIMS, will be conducting these surveys aboard F/V Celtic (New Bedford, MA) and F/V Pursuit (Seaford, VA). The data gathered during these trips will help to set catch limits in these areas, which are only opened occasionally to prevent overfishing.

Managing scallops in such a way has enabled the fishery to attain recent stability and success. In 2008, scallops were the most valuable single-species fishery in the U.S. Coastwide, ex-vessel landings for 2008 were valued at roughly $370 million, not including the money generated on land by processors, shippers, and others. In Virginia, scallops are a major fisheries product and in 2008 accounted for $66 million ex-vessel, nearly 20 percent of the nation's scallop landings.

This recent success is due in part to close collaboration between industry, scientists, and managers. Not only do industry vessels play host to these projects, but industry also sets aside a portion of the scallop quota to fund studies of the scallop fishery, including the surveys to take place this July.

Conducting surveys of these areas before opening them to fishing supplies the managers with accurate and up-to-date information that should help keep the scallop industry in good standing.

"I like to compare survey work to managing money," says Rudders. Conducting a survey, he explains, is like looking at a bank-account balance. Once researchers know how many scallops are there, they can figure out how many scallops can be withdrawn without overfishing, the ecological equivalent of going broke.

"Accurate and current information is a critical component of the area management strategy," says Rudders. There is usually a 2- to 3-year time lag between when an area is closed and when it is re-opened.  A lot can happen during that time and we need to be certain that there is a sufficient biomass of scallops in the area to responsibly support an opening.  

But Rudders believes that there should be plenty of adult scallops to justify an opening in each area.  If a threshold level of biomass is present, full-time vessels are generally allocated a "trip" into the closed area that is equivalent to 18,000 lbs. of scallop meats. Part-time and general category vessels also receive access, albeit with a smaller allocation.

"For these areas, I wouldn't be surprised to if we find enough scallops to harvest at least one trip from each area. Valued at roughly $30 to $40 million (ex-vessel revenue), each opening represents a significant economic impact to not only the vessels involved but the waterfront communities that support them," says Rudders. On the other hand, there may not even be enough scallops to open the areas as scheduled. "That's why we're doing the surveys," he says.

Rudders and DuPaul will survey Georges Bank in federal waters off the coast of Massachusetts aboard F/V Celtic from July 8 through 15. They will survey Hudson Canyon, in federal waters off the Delmarva Peninsula, aboard F/V Pursuit during the last two weeks of July.

Rudders and DuPaul received funding to conduct these surveys through the Scallop Research Set-Aside Awards program, funded by scallop-industry members and administered by the National Marine Fishery Service and New England Fishery Management Council.