NOAA 2000-122
Contact: Teri Frady

Sea Scallopers Expand into More Closed Areas off New England

Beginning June 15, many North Atlantic sea scallopers will be able to return to harvest in the southern part of Georges Bank Closed Area II, opened to them last year for the first time since 1994, Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley announced today. As the summer progresses, scallop fishermen will also gain access to parts of other presently closed areas, one on the western edge of the Bank and the other off Southern New England. The fishery may yield an additional 19 million pounds of sea scallop landings this year.

"This is the second year of a limited fishery that put $36 million into the pockets of East Coast scallop fishermen last year," said Secretary Daley. "This cooperative effort shows that we can balance conservation needs with the needs of fishermen."

In Northeast waters, sea scallop beds in the closed areas have made significant gains in the number and size of sea scallops. The areas were defined and closed in 1994 to protect known productive areas for depleted cod, haddock, and yellowtail flounder stocks, but also encompassed known productive areas for sea scallops, which were also depleted at the time. The limited fishery in Closed Area II last year produced about 6 million pounds of scallop meats, some of which were larger than any seen on the market in recent years.

"This success is due to the cooperative work by everyone involved, the National Marine Fisheries Service staff, the New England Fishery Management Council, and fishermen," said Daley. "I anticipate this year's program will continue to build on the success of our joint enterprise."

The exempted scallop fishery (so-called because vessels are exempted from the closures during the fishery) is governed by an overall total allowable catch (TAC) for sea scallops as well as yellowtail flounder (a flatfish retained in scallop gear), individual trip limits, as well as automatic 10 day reductions in vessel days at sea.

"By carefully selecting areas to open and adopting appropriate rules, harvest can occur without compromising rebuilding of yellowtail flounder, overfishing sea scallop stocks, increasing gear conflicts with lobster pots, or damaging important bottom habitat," said Pat Kurkul, Northeast regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency responsible for managing marine fisheries.

Kurkul notes that based on last year's experience, some rules have been modified to improve safety at sea, and to make reporting and enforcement easier. NOAA Fisheries did not approve one measure in the plan that would have allowed vessels with open access scallop permits into the exempted fishery. These vessels were not allowed to participate in the exempted fishery last year.

"This fishery also is a great example of how electronic reporting can give us real time information," she says. Vessels are required to have onboard electronic monitoring systems for frequent reporting of landings and vessel position. This allowed for the careful monitoring of the fishery on a real-time basis.

During fishing year 2000, limited access sea scallop vessels will be allowed in a southern portion of Closed Area II from June 15 until Aug. 14, in the northeast corner of the Nantucket Lightship Closed Area from Aug. 15 until Sept. 30, and in the central part of Closed Area I from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31. Each vessel is allowed a maximum of three trips in Closed Area II, one trip in the Nantucket Lightship Closed Area, and two trips in Closed Area I.

Regardless of trips taken, the fishery will close when all allowable trips have been taken, or the scallop or yellowtail TAC has been taken. The sea scallop TACs are 6.6 million pounds in Closed Area II, 5.5 million pounds in the Nantucket Lightship Closed Area, and 7.0 million pounds in Closed Area I. Yellowtail flounder TACs are 1.6 million pounds for the Cape Cod and Georges Bank stocks and 110,000 pounds for the Southern New England stock.

Last year, the sea scallop TAC was not reached, but the yellowtail flounder TAC was. "The industry and the fishery management council will have a good picture of how this rotational opening scheme works in relatively short order," says Kurkul, "to help devise the best use of planned opening and closings as a prominent feature of future sea scallop fishing rules."