National Policy,  New England Fisheries

One That Didn’t Get Away: The Atlantic Sea Scallop and the Future of Fishing

Atlantic sea scallops. Image via NOAA Fisheries.

The following post was provided by the Fishing Communities Coalition

Cape Cod, named in the early 17th century by an English explorer who “took aboard a great store of codfish,” has been defined by a proud fishing heritage for generations. Of course, the Cape’s fishing communities depend on much more than cod and other groundfish. Our fishermen harvest a diverse range of seafood, including lobster, scallop, sea bass, conch and tuna. Most recently, the waters off the coast have yielded an abundance of skate and dogfish.

During National Seafood Month, it is important to appreciate the tremendous benefits the Cape and seafood consumers across the country have enjoyed thanks to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which Congress is revisiting this year. In fact, without the science-based fisheries management required by this law, our rich heritage might have become ancient history.

Cape fishermen have seen firsthand the perils of overfishing, mismanagement and shortsighted fisheries management. Before the landmark Act took effect in 1976, fisheries of the northeast were reeling from decades of weak management, which resulted in widespread overfishing, including by foreign fleets that were systematically scouring New England’s bountiful waters.

From the start, the Magnuson-Stevens Act rightly linked biological stability with economic stability. The Act uses science to guide policy, so fishermen (always a questioning lot) can be more confident that decisions are based on the best real-time information available. And because the Act uses sound science and accountability measures to ensure the long-term health of fish stocks, industry members are invested in the success of the fishery.

As a result of strong science-based management decisions made in collaboration with the fishing industry, the fisheries of Cape Cod remain a vital component of the character and livelihood of the entire region.

The Atlantic Sea Scallop fishery provides an excellent example.

In 1991, annual scallop landings were at nearly 37 million pounds. By 1994, they had dropped to less than 10 million pounds – a decrease of more than 70 percent in just three years. In response, regulators closed three areas to scallop fishing, temporarily halted new licenses and began rotating access to certain, highly productive fishing grounds. Because scallops reach sexual maturity within two years, the fishery recovered to its former levels within a decade. Today, the price for scallops has nearly doubled since 2002, and the shellfish alone contributes almost $2 billion to local economies each year.

The results are living evidence of the power of a successful and ongoing collaboration under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Industry members now partner with researchers to fund and contribute directly to stock assessments and research that reduces the environmental impact of dredges. As a result, this fishery has become one of the most sustainable in the country.

On Cape Cod, most scallop fishermen belong to the Limited Access General Category fleet, which harvests 600 pounds per trip and is authorized 5.5 percent of the total allowable harvest. These small day-boat fishermen have worked directly with scientists in bycatch studies to avoid the unintentional capture of non-targeted fish, as well as document the less harmful impacts of smaller dredges on the ocean bottom.

Of course, there are always challenges and frustrations involved in fisheries management. The regional councils, which the Act empowers, face difficult decisions. For example, the New England council spent years painstakingly crafting an omnibus habitat amendment to protect the fisheries and improve the long-term business plan of fishermen up and down the coast. The future of that habitat amendment is still in question, but the Magnuson-Stevens Act ensures decisions like these are made in public, with the core tenet of promoting sustainability of both the environment and the economy.

That’s what makes the Act so powerful – it is designed to be transparent with collaboration with fishermen at its heart. It is this dynamic under the Magnuson-Stevens Act that made the recovery of the Atlantic Sea Scallop possible. That’s why we must protect this mission to provide better science and to foster technological advances that benefit the fishermen, the public and the resource.

During National Seafood Month, as we appreciate the progress we’ve made, join us in urging our representatives in Congress to support the core principles of the Magnuson-Stevens Act so future generations of fishermen and consumers can continue to enjoy the ocean’s bounty.

John Pappalardo is CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, a member of the Fishing Communities Coalition


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