2011 SMAST Scallop Video Survey

On Tuesday evening (8/16/11) the F/V Edgartown returned to New Bedford from surveying the central historic scallop fishing grounds in the Gulf of Maine (Platt's Bank, Fippennies, Cashes and Jefferies Ledges) marking the completion of the 2011 cooperative SMAST-Industry scallop video survey. This cooperative research program with the scallop industry began in 1999 and has contributed to the success of scallop rotational management, resulting in one of the best managed fisheries in the U.S. with record yields and a stable, high biomass.

The information collected during the previous nine cruises to Georges Bank and the Mid-Atlantic was presented to the Scallop Fishermen's Steering Committee on Tuesday 9 August 2011. Within the survey area sampled each year by SMAST, the overall biomass of the stock remained constant with 322 million lbs in 2010 and 323 million lbs in 2011. In fact, despite recent harvest, the exploitable biomass (collectable in a 4" ring) increased from 233 to 241 million lbs.

The 2011 survey included areas outside the standard sampling area. Exploring of these areas arose from discussions with the fishing industry and the Northeast Fisheries Science Center's 2010 scallop stock assessment workshops. Responding to this the New England Fishery Management Council's Atlantic sea scallop Fishery Management Plan Development Team set exploring new areas as a research priority.  As a result the Council provided Research Set Aside funds.  An additional 26.5 million lbs of scallops, 23.2 million lbs of which are outside the National Marine Fisheries Service survey strata, representing 7% of the entire resource was observed. This is a good example of how the SMAST program can quickly respond to the need for updated scientific information.

The SMAST video survey season ran smoothly due to the hard work of the staff and students and the continued close cooperation with the fishing industry. For each of the 10 cruises the dredge gear had to be removed from the vessel, and the SMAST sampling pyramid, hydraulic winch and pilot house equipment had to be loaded and assembled. This took two days to set-up, starting with a call to Blue Fleet Crane Service to pick up and load the gear onto the vessel. The vessels sailed with two scientists, two fishermen and new students who were being trained in the field procedure.

Jon Carey was responsible for the logistics and equipment transfer and organization of all cruises. Jon managed these 10 cruises while also completing and defending his Master's of Science thesis entitled "Physical and biological influences on juvenile sea scallop (Placopecten magellanicus) distribution on Georges Bank and the Mid-Atlantic Bight" and winning the Alan Ansell Memorial Award for Best Student Presentation on his research at the International Pectinid Workshop in Qingdao, China.

Tom Jaffarian developed a custom field application that records the station number, latitude, longitude, depth, number of scallops observed, substrate and biota, and a linked laboratory application which captures the video footage, verifies and updates the field collected data, quality controls the data and incorporates it into our interactive database. Tom also had the most days at sea for the lab again this year completing five of the ten cruises.

Cate O'Keefe, as scallop program manager and a member of the New England Fisheries Management Council Scallop Plan Development Team, oversaw the entire operation and presented the SMAST research. Cate completed a survey trip early in the season then focused on expanding the yellowtail bycatch avoidance program for Closed Areas I and II including over 200 vessels, which is also part of her PhD research. This program is still underway as the closed area fisheries have remained open, and to date there has been very little bycatch from these areas.

Susan Inglis is a new addition to the laboratory and is completing her PhD from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She is studying scallop seasonal growth based on our cooperative industry tagging studies, isotopic measurements of scallop shells, and energetics. She also has continued research on seasonal meat weight variations, specifically looking at the unusually large meats that occurred in the Mid-Atlantic this spring.

Two students graduated and left our program this spring. Dr. Brad Harris defended his PhD dissertation entitled "Habitat conditions in persistent high-concentration sea scallop (Placopecten magellanicus) aggregations on Georges Bank, USA" and was immediately hired as an Assistant Professor at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage. Carly Mott examined factors that influence scallop growth and defended her Master's thesis entitled "Examining variation in sea scallop shell growth and environmental conditions across Georges Bank and the Mid-Atlantic."

Katherine Thompson joined the lab as a new Master's student and will be studying spawning events in scallops. Katherine worked as a deck hand in the lobster fishery in Maine and has already been to sea several times on the video surveys and in support of the RSA-funded yellowtail bycatch surveys in collaboration with Ron Smolowitz of Coonamessett Farm and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

Erin Adams participated in three surveys while conducting our educational outreach program and developing her Master's degree research with Professor Dan Georgianna, who also sailed on the Gulf of Maine video survey.

Dave Bethoney sailed on several surveys helping the scallop program while conducting his PhD research on reducing river herring bycatch in the Atlantic herring and mackerel trawl fisheries. Dave is a versatile researcher who recently published his Master's thesis work on lobsters entitled "Association between diet and epizootic shell disease in the American lobster (Homarus Americanus) around western Martha's Vineyard using 15N signatures".

Each video survey trip sampled between 200 and 400 stations with four drops of the SMAST pyramid at each station using four cameras to collect data from different views and angles of the sea floor. After each trip the recorded video footage was examined by summer interns, a group of undergraduate and graduate students hired to gain experience in marine science and fisheries. Over 50 different fish and invertebrates are identified along with 15 different combinations of substrate type for habitat classification. Courtney Donovan developed a training program and quality control testing procedure that each new student must complete before working on the field data. This year Samuel Asci, Kyle Cassidy, Andrea Carey, Courtney Donovan and Sarah Rocha worked long hours analyzing the field collected video data and participated in some of the ten survey trips.

As in past years the industry support has been exceptional. Food, fuel, vessels and crew time were all donated from the fleet and supporting industries.

This year's survey data are critical because for the first time the industry will face Accountability Measures if they exceed the 2011 Annual Catch Limit (ACL) of 55 million lbs for limited access vessels. The Accountability Measures would reduce the number of Days at Sea and area available to fish in 2012. In 2010, the overall landings were 56.7 million lbs. In 2011 the overall ACL is 60 million. Our survey data indicate that the scallop resource has not decreased and that there is an additional 23 million lbs outside the traditional survey area.  These results confirm the assumptions that were used to increase the overall estimate of scallop abundance during the 2010 sea scallop stock assessment.  They also provide additional survey data that will allow the New England Fishery Management Council to refine the ACL for subsequent years.  Finally, they provide the good news that there is a harvestable scallop resource today in areas where scallops were largely absent a decade ago.

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New Scallop Dredge Greatly Reduces Risks to Threatened Sea Turtles

The following was released by the Coonamesset Farm Foundation:
The New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) recently took action to reduce injury to sea turtles.  The action requires the use of a new scallop dredge design that greatly reduces the risk of injury to sea turtles encountered during fishing operations. The dredge design, known as the Cfarm Turtle Deflector Dredge (TDD), evolved over several years’ research led by the Coonamessett Farm Foundation (CFF).
CFF, a non-profit research and education foundation, is funded by grants from the sea scallop industry’s research set aside (scallop RSA) program and the National Marine Fisheries Service Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC). The CFF is working with a diverse team of scientists and fishermen in a major effort to understand how the fishery is affecting the loggerhead sea turtle. Edward Welch, a New Bedford scallop captain for over 40 years said that “the first turtle I caught was in 2001 and I knew then we had to do something.”
The scallop fishery interacts with predominantly loggerhead sea turtles during the summer and fall in the Mid-Atlantic. Interactions between sea turtles and dredges are thought to occur in the water column during haul back as well as on the sea floor during active fishing.  In 2003, over 750 loggerheads were estimated caught and with an injury rate estimated at 64%.
An initial CFF and Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) research effort led to the development of turtle chain mats to prevent turtles from entering the dredge when the gear is being hauled back through the water. The highly successful chain mats all but eliminated turtles from being captured by scallop dredges.  Ronald Smolowitz, the designer of the chain mat, points out that “Although the chain mats greatly reduced sea turtle capture in scallop dredges, they did not eliminate the potential risk of a turtle being run over and injured by a dredge on the seafloor.” For several years, Smolowitz’s team of CFF researchers worked with the scallop industry and NEFSC to develop a turtle deflector dredge to further reduce the severity of impact and mortality of sea turtles from potential interactions on the sea floor.
In 2005, CFF, NEFSC and Southeast Fisheries Science Center conducted a study using sea turtles that died as a result of strandings.  The carcasses were placed in the path of a standard New Bedford dredge to evaluate interactions and injuries.  Prototypes of a modified dredge were also developed and tested.  In 2008, again working with the NEFSC, the turtle deflector dredge was evaluated in Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts. Nine sea turtle carcasses were used in the tests and five recovered carcasses were evaluated for injuries. The only observed carcass damage was superficial scratches and chips.  The tests were also captured on video that showed all carcasses hit the dredge at some point and passed over the dredge frame.
The new TDD design makes it highly likely that a turtle will not be run over by the dredge, and the TDD is expected to decrease injuries to turtles by 56% and possibly eliminate serious injuries altogether.
Deirdre Boelke, the Scallop Plan Coordinator for the NEFMC believes the Council’s recent decision to recommend implementation of the TDD in the scallop fishery was a very positive action that will have real and measurable benefits for sea turtles.  “From start to finish, this gear modification is an ideal example of how the Council process can and should work. A problem was identified, a solution was devised, industry partnered with appropriate researchers to test it, and finally the management process developed and analyzed a range of alternatives with input from the public and NMFS.  CFF took the lead in developing this solution. Implementation of the TDD will serve as a great acknowledgement of their dedication and hard work.”    
To further understand the behavior of the turtles and their population status, the Coonamessett Farm Foundation (CFF) is collaborating with the NEFSC and others.  The research involves the use of dredge mounted video cameras, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), and satellite tags placed on captured turtles. Recent work supported by the satellite tracking studies, indicates that more than 800,000 loggerheads live in the northwest Atlantic Ocean.

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SMAST, scallopers develop another model program

NOAA has announced it will raise the target for the scallop fishery by almost 6 percent for 2012 after an 8 percent increase in 2011, which one would expect will keep the port of New Bedford at the top of the money chart for U.S. fish landings.

The agency is also promising to close for a portion of a subsequent year scallop grounds where bycatch of the bottom-dwelling — and less valuable — yellowtail flounder exceeds an annual limit. This practice has been in place for several years, and NOAA now promises to coordinate the closed areas in such a way as to provide successful scalloping elsewhere.

A program being run by the UMass Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology takes this a step further and uses this "choke" mechanism to make the fishery more efficient and advance the same goals as NOAA's.

About half the boats catching scallops in the fishery are contacting SMAST by e-mail daily with information about how much yellowtail they're finding, allowing SMAST to compile real-time data on where they are — and where they aren't. The boats in the program get the data, adjust where they're dredging and reduce their bycatch, thus staving off the choke limit and closure, and landing more scallops.

According to two SMAST scientists in a recent interview on the weekly "Saving Seafood Radio" on WBSM-AM, this program is helping scallopers land tens of millions of dollars of allowable catch before the choke species closes the fishery.

They also note that SMAST is trying to expand the program, with a doctoral student currently working with the herring fishery to prevent river herring bycatch.

Again, the collaboration between fishermen and the school is having a tremendous impact on the success of the scallop fishery. It was the videotaping of scallop beds done by SMAST cameras on working boats starting in the late 1990s that provided the scientific data to open fertile, lucrative areas to a beleaguered fleet.

This teamwork yields results far superior to government efforts to measure fish populations using improperly calibrated or inappropriately adjusted gear.

The creative minds at SMAST and the fishing experience of New Bedford's fleet belong together. As they tackle more challenges, we look forward to both the fisheries and the industry enjoying sustainability.



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Fisheries Survival Fund thanks NOAA, elected officials for emergency action closing the Nantucket Lightship Access Area

June 7, 2011

NEW BEDFORD, MASS. -- Last week the NOAA Fisheries Service announced that, at the 

request of the scallop industry, they would close the Nantucket Lightship Access Area to fishing 

for the 2011 fishing year.  The Fisheries Survival Fund (FSF) had asked NOAA to take this 

emergency action to preserve scallop resources in the area which was originally scheduled to 

open on June 15. 

"We thank NOAA for their quick action to close the Nantucket Lightship area," said the 

Fisheries Survival Fund Board of Directors. "Responsible stewardship of the Atlantic Ocean and 

its scallop resources is the Fisheries Survival Fund's top priority.  We are grateful for the 

governors and members of Congress who assisted us and for NOAA's partnership in our crucial 

rotational management program." 

FSF worked closely with NOAA and the New England Fishery Management Council and urged 

an emergency action to close the area before its scheduled opening on June 15.  FSF members 

also traveled to Washington, DC for two days of meetings to enlist the help of members of 

Congress and governor's offices.  


At FSF's request, members of the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation, led by Rep. Barney 

Frank (D-MA), and members of the New Jersey Congressional Delegation, led by Reps. Frank 

LoBiondo (R-NJ) and Jon Runyan (R-NJ), sent letters to NOAA urging the emergency action.  

The offices of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, New 

York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy together with 

Representatives Joe Courtney (R-CT), Rob Wittman (R-VA) and David Cicilline (D-RI) also 

weighed in with the agency on behalf of FSF. 

FSF's members travelled to Washington to gather support for various policy issues that affect the 

scallop industry.  Over two days members took meetings with Senate, House, and governor's 

offices representing Atlantic coast states from North Carolina to Massachusetts.   


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NOAA issues emergency action to prevent opening of scallop area to protect resource

May 26, 2011


NOAA issues emergency action to prevent opening of scallop area to protect resource



Scallop industry supports measure that protects successful rotational management


NOAA today announced that, at the request of the New England Fishery Management Council and members of the scallop industry, it will not reopen the Nantucket Lightship Access Area to scallop fishing, as had been scheduled for June 15.

“We are working with the council and scallop fishermen to protect scallops and southern New England yellowtail flounder stocks in this area to allow for future sustainable fishing here,” said Eric Schwaab, assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service. “By ensuring sustainable scallop yields for the future from this area, we are also preserving the integrity of our successful rotational management program.”

Rotational management, where some areas are opened to fishing while others are closed to allow scallops to mature and grow to marketable size, promotes higher catches with less fishing time in the areas that are open. Rotational management has helped make the scallop fishery one of the top valued fisheries in the nation and made New Bedford, Mass., the nation’s top earning port.

Today’s emergency measure is needed because increased landings as a result of a reopening could jeopardize the scallops and undermine the future of the rotational management program. New proposed measures will require that this roughly 1,400-square mile area, southeast of Nantucket Island, be closed until June 15, 2012, and three other scallop fishing areas be open instead in the 2011 fishing year, as part of rotational management.

"We urged both the council and NOAA to keep this area closed because the high price of scallops may make fishing in this area more attractive than anyone expected and we don't want to risk exceeding our catch limits for the fishery or compromise the effectiveness of the rotational management program," said Drew Minkiewicz, an attorney with the Fisheries Survival Fund, which represents sea scallop fishermen.




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