NOAA 99-R132
Contact: Teri Frady


Gloucester, Mass.—For the first time since 1994, beginning June 15, commercial sea scallopers will be allowed to return to a part of Georges Bank that has been closed. The vessels will have access to harvest sea scallop beds that have grown substantially during the closure, setting the stage for ongoing management of the fishery through planned openings and closures.

"I appreciate everyone's hard work in making this opening possible," said Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley. "I know how important this is to scallopers this year and I am pleased that we were able to work with the New England Council and the fishing industry to allow for a June opening." The Commerce Department is the parent organization for NOAA Fisheries, the agency responsible for building and maintaining sustainable fisheries for the nation.

The opening is the culmination of months of work by the New England Fishery Management Council, its committees, the sea scallop industry, the Massachusetts congressional delegation, and scientists, technicians and fishery managers from NOAA Fisheries, the University of Massachusetts, and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

The new sea scallop fishery will open under rules designed to guard against overharvest of sea scallops and to minimize bycatch of recovering groundfish. "We have struck an effective balance between the needs of the resource, and the needs of the fishing community," Daley added.

The new fishing area includes a southern portion of Area II, a triangular closure bounded on the east by the international boundary separating U.S. from Canadian waters on Georges Bank. In addition to this area, some contiguous, presently open
waters are included under the rules. Both full- and part-time sea scallop vessels are allowed up to three trips in the area, while occasional vessels are allowed one trip. On each trip, vessels may retain up to 10,000 pounds of sea scallop meats. For each of these trips, a minimum of 10 days at sea will be deducted from the vessel's 1999 days-at-sea allotment. The fishery will close if the bycatch limit of approximately 850,000 pounds of yellowtail flounder is reached.

On some trips, sea scallop vessels will take a person aboard who is trained to record information about fishing practices, including estimating bycatch and discard of species other than sea scallops. NOAA Fisheries is training additional observers especially for this opening, using as many candidates with observer and/or commercial fishing experience as possible.

Before the opening could occur, changes were required in both the scallop and groundfish fishery management plans. In addition, a significant research and data gathering effort was conducted to assess the likely affects of the opening, how quickly the allowable harvest could be taken, and how the fishery could be monitored.

Research activities included resource surveys aboard the NOAA ship Albatross IV, and cooperative cruises conducted in Closed Area II aboard commercial sea scallop vessels in August and September of last year, which provided information to estimate actual abundance in the area and the efficiency of commercial dredges. NOAA Fisheries is committed to additional research this summer in other areas of Georges Bank presently closed to scalloping, some of which will use commercial vessels.

From June 1 to June 11, NOAA Fisheries is conducting a "pre-opening" survey of portions of the presently closed area and surrounding open waters in cooperation with scientists of the U.S. Geological Survey. The purpose of the survey is to establish a baseline for measuring changes in bottom habitat due to increased dredging in the area, a concern for many who commented on proposals to allow the opening.