In commercial fisheries, modifications of the fishing gear can be used to adjust the capture process to reduce impacts on non-target size classes or species. The VIMS Sea Scallop Research Program has been involved with dredge modification projects aiming to reduce the capture of small sea scallops, finfish bycatch, and protected species.
Small Sea Scallops
Ring size is an important factor that dictates the size of scallops retained in a dredge, with smaller rings retaining smaller scallops. Field trials led to a gradual increase in the ring size of commercial scallop dredges over the course of 10 years. In the Mid-Atlantic, this increase in ring size resulted in a 45% reduction in the harvest of small scallops. The current regulated ring size is 4 inches.
Led by researchers at the Coonamessett Farm Foundation, the VIMS Sea Scallop Research Program helped assess dredge modifications to reduce the catch of several finfish species routinely caught in sea scallop dredges including:
- Yellowtail flounder
- Summer flounder
- Windowpane flounder
Dredge modifications tested have included:
- Twine top size modifications
- Addition of a sweep to the front of the dredge frame
- Excluder panels
- Extended link apron
Protected Species Bycatch
In addition to research focused on finfish bycatch, the VIMS Sea Scallop Research Program assisted the Coonamessett Farm Foundation with the assessment of dredge modifications intended to reduce the impact of the sea scallop fishery on protected sea turtles. This work led to the development of the Coonamessett Farm Turtle Deflector Dredge. In addition to this innovative dredge frame, chain mats were also developed and tested to further reduce sea turtle interactions with the gear. Both measures are now required for use in the Mid-Atlantic resource area from May 1–November 30.