Bycatch of Flounder
Reaches Limit of
NMFS Northeast Region
N E W SGloucester, Mass. — Scalloping in a recently-reopened portion of Georges Bank will end November 12, NOAA Fisheries announced today. Scallop vessels already fishing can complete their trips. Fishermen were alerted to the planned closure through the Vessel Monitoring System’s e-mail messaging service and told no additional trips would be permitted after midnight November 2. By the time the fishery closes, scallopers will have harvested nearly 6 million pounds of scallop meats worth approximately $36 million.
“This opening allowed scallopers to harvest, while not compromising any stock rebuilding,” said Pat Kurkul, the NOAA Fisheries Northeast regional administrator.
The fishery opened June 15 with two allowable catch levels — one for scallops and one for yellowtail flounder — in Closed Area II, a portion of Georges Bank closed in 1994 to protect groundfish and scallops. Scallop gear catches groundfish. So, as scallop beds recovered in the closed areas regulators still had to consider groundfish protection before allowing scallop harvest. During the opening, scallop vessels could harvest as much as 9.4 million pounds (meat weight) of scallops or 853,000 pounds of yellowtail flounder, whichever came first.
Approximately 185 vessels participated in the fishery, making more than 580 trips to Area II. The total allowable catch of yellowtail was reached last week, triggering the closure.
The opening required changes in both the scallop and groundfish management plans. The information needed to make those changes was provided through a joint effort involving industry, NOAA Fisheries, the New England Fishery Management Council, the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, and scientists from the University of Massachusetts and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
Additionally, a significant research and data gathering effort was needed to obtain a fine scale survey of scallop beds in Closed Area II and to study the potential groundfish bycatch problem.
The research effort that made the exempted fishery possible included 1998 surveys aboard the NOAA ship Albatross IV and collaborative science/industry research cruises aboard commercial vessels, which surveyed more than 600 sites in Area II in August and September, 1998.
In June, 1999, NOAA Fisheries, working with the U.S. Geological Survey, conducted “pre-opening” surveys of portions of Area II and surrounding waters that were not closed in 1994. Those surveys established a baseline for measuring changes in bottom habitat due to increased dredging in the area, a concern for many who commented on the proposal to allow the exempted fishery.
A 20 inch by 30 inch portion of the sea bottom (above) on the east side of Closed Area II shows a 4.7 inch sea scallop, a 16 inch red hake, and a hermit crab. The photograph was taken June 8 at a depth of 77 meters in a pre-opening survey conducted by NMFS and the USGS. The photo below shows a 5.6 inch sea scallop and some small molluscs, at a depth of 74 meters, also on the east side of Closed Area II.
The photo below, taken June 7 about 1.5 miles outside the southeastern border of Closed Area II at a depth of 94 meters, shows small sea scallops ranging from 1.7 to 2.1 inches. Note also a few dead scallop shells. All photos were taken with a 35 mm still camera mounted on the Seabed Observation and Sampling System developed by the USGS, Woods Hole Field Center.
Scientists and fishermen continue to study other closed areas
In August, NOAA Fisheries scientists and commercial fishermen conducted a joint study of two other areas closed since 1994 — Closed Area I and Nantucket Lightship. Preliminary results of those surveys indicate the two areas probably hold 35 million pounds or more of sea scallop meats. The surveys also measured the bycatch of other fish, and found rates generally were low during August when the survey took place.
In October the survey results were reported to the New England Fishery Management Council’s (NEFMC) Scallop Plan Development Team. Through council’s activities, the data will be further reviewed and used to help evaluate future area openings and closures proposed for managing the fishery on a sustainable basis.
While continuing scientific reviews may result in some adjustment to the estimates, federal officials are enthusiastic about the prospects for using commercial vessels to gather data for use by scientists and managers alike.
“It is exactly the kind of scientific work that can be done very efficiently aboard commercial vessels,” said Dr. Michael Sissenwine, the science and research director for NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center, which designed and managed the survey. “The commercial fleet can cover a lot of survey stations and produce extremely useful information very quickly, and it can be done at a low cost while generating income for fishermen through the sale of scallops caught in the survey,” Sissenwine said.
“The collaborative survey with commercial vessels in August was another win-win operation,” agreed Kurkul. “The preliminary estimates of abundance and bycatch are already in the hands of the council for use in considering a rotational opening for next year. Meanwhile, scientists will be working with the information over the longer term, to better understand important factors governing sea scallop recovery, including the effects of fishing.”
The joint survey was conducted between August 6 and September 1 in Closed Area I, a triangular-shaped span of water approximately 40 miles south east of Cape Cod; and in the Nantucket Lightship area, a rectangle approximately 30 miles south of Nantucket.
The fishing vessel Santa Maria and the fishing vessel Kathy Marie, both New Bedford scallopers, were chosen by lottery to participate in the biomass estimate portion of the survey. In addition, fishing vessels Westport and Tradition were chosen by lottery to participate in the bycatch portion of the experiment.
Scientists from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science also participated in the study. The vessels were not paid for their time; rather, they used their allocated days-at-sea and retained for sale 14,000 pounds of sea scallop meats from their 10-day trips.
“The results so far confirm trends identified through annual surveys done aboard NOAA’s ship Albatross IV, which have tracked considerable growth of sea scallops in these areas since the closures,” said Dr. Steve Murawski, a NOAA Fisheries biologist who helped design the survey.
“In our regular survey, we sample throughout the sea scallop’s range, looking at relative abundance and stock condition, collecting data at hundreds of stations from the Mid-Atlantic through Georges Bank. A few dozen of those stations are in these closed areas,” Murawski explained. “The survey with commercial vessels in August was more intensive, occupying some 500 sites in and around just these two areas, and intended to collect data important for managers as well as scientists — abundance, location, bycatch, and other biological data.”
Additional information about sea scallop stocks in these two areas was provided this year by scientists at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth’s Center for Marine Science and Technology, who used video survey methods. The council is also considering this information in developing fishery management measures.