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Local Summer Fisheries – Sea Scallops

The Atlantic sea scallop fishery has gained Marine Stewardship Council certification. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

Madi Gamble is the Ocean Conservation intern this summer at CLF.  She grew up fishing in Marblehead, MA and is a rising senior at Dartmouth College, where she studies biology and environmental science.

Sea scallops, found on sandy and gravelly sediments from Newfoundland to North Carolina, constitute one of the most valuable fisheries in the United States.  There are three stocks of scallops; the Gulf of Maine stock is primarily an inshore fishery, where scallops are harvested at depths of around 40 meters, while the Georges Bank and Mid-Atlantic stocks are harvested off-shore at depths between 40 and 100 meters.  Scallops are usually found in concentrated groups, called “beds,” on the sea floor.  Interestingly, the number of rings (called annuli) on a scallop’s shell corresponds with its age.  They reach commercially harvestable sizes when they are 4-5 years old, around the same age when they begin to really contribute to reproduction.  Scallop dredges, which are essentially composed of a steel apparatus connected to a large net, are the main gear used by commercial operations .  As the dredge is pulled along scallop beds on the ocean floor, the steel “cutting bar” kicks up scallops which are then caught in the attached net.  Because of the gear involved, recreational scallop fishing is not common.  Scallops are filter feeders that eat mainly phytoplankton, but they also feed on microzooplankton and detritus from the water column.  Scallops are prey for Cod, flounder, wolffish, and sea turtles, along with invertebrates such as crabs, lobster, and sea stars.  When threatened, scallops use their adductor muscle (the part that humans eat) to rapidly open and shut their shell, propelling them away from perceived predators.  Because they are generally sessile, grow rapidly, and have low natural mortality and extremely high fertility, scallop populations are usually very responsive to conservations measures such as fishing closures in certain areas.

Total commercial landings of sea scallops have risen sharply over the past decade thanks to effective management (Photo Credit: NEFSC)

The Gulf of Maine scallop fishery has almost always yielded relatively small, sustainable harvests.  However, scallops from the Georges Bank and Mid-Atlantic stocks were not always the sustainable, prospering fishery they are today.  In 1994, in response to low harvests, three large areas on Georges Bank were closed to any fishing gear targeting scallops or groundfish.  Other protective measures were also put in place: the minimum dredge ring size was increased by an inch, allowing scallops smaller than 4 inches to escape; limits on crew size and days at sea reduced fishing pressure; and managers designed a rotational closure program in which different areas would be temporarily closed to scallop fishing each year to give the scallop population in that area time to recover.  These regulations also help reduce bycatch and protect the sea-floor habitat.  Because of these effective management strategies, the Georges Bank and Mid-Atlantic scallop populations have recovered robustly and have supported a thriving, sustainable fishery since 2001. In recent years, thanks to this effective management, both the mean weight and total number of harvested scallops have increased drastically.  Stock assessments, which used to be completed using sample dredges of scallop-rich areas, are now being conducted using an underwater camera system called the “HabCam.”  Short for “Habitat Mapping Camera System,” the HabCam provides scientists with more information in less time and with less effort than the old dredging technique.  It is also less destructive to the habitat being sampled, and allows scientists to cover larger areas in their assessment.  These stock assessments, as well as the additional habitat and scallop research, are funded by the revenue from 1.25 million pounds of the scallop TAC that is allocated each year specifically for scientific purposes.

The Gulf of Maine scallop fishery, which is open December 1 through April 15, is almost entirely within three miles of the coast, and is thus regulated by the State of Maine.  NOAA Fisheries and the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils together manage the federal area of the sea scallop fishery, which is open year round, under the Atlantic Sea Scallop Fishery Management Plan.  Under this plan, managers set total allowable catch (TAC) limits each year, and regulate commercial operations by limiting days-at-sea and trips to certain special access areas.  Vessels fishing for scallops may have a crew no larger than 7 people, and must use vessel monitoring systems which use satellites to track fishing activities.  Because sea turtles are at high risk of being caught in scallop dredges, scallop fishermen must use Turtle Deflector Dredges for seasons and places in which sea turtles are abundant in scallop grounds.  The Georges Bank stock crosses into Canadian waters, and thus managers also work with Canadian authorities on regulations and restrictions.  The other major bycatch associated with the scallop industry is yellowtail flounder.  To account for this, a portion of the annual yellowtail quota is allotted to the scallop industry, and recently scallop fishermen have worried that greatly reduced yellowtail quotas due to very low populations will impinge on the amount of scallops they can harvest.  The commercial scallop fishery has been very vocal in calling for improved stock assessment models to ensure that the yellowtail population is fully understood before the quota is further reduced.

Recipe: Sesame-crusted, Pan-Seared Scallops With Asian Vinaigrette on Salad

Yields 4 Servings

1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green onion, minced
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, minced
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 tablespoon sake or rice wine
12 large sea scallops
Salt and pepper
½ cup sesame seeds
4 cups mesclun salad mix

Asian vinaigrette:
In a bowl add ginger, green onion, cilantro, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of canola oil, and sake. Whisk ingredients together. Set aside.

Season scallops with salt and pepper. Place sesame seeds on plate. Pat down top and bottom sides of each scallop in sesame seeds.

In a sauté pan, over medium-high heat, add remaining tablespoon canola oil. When oil is hot, add scallops, placing them crusted-side down. Sear for approximately 1 minute, or until sesame seeds brown. Turn and sear on other sesame-crusted side for 1 minute. Place on top of mesclun salad and drizzle with Asian vinaigrette dressing.


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