Cuts in allowable catch for New England scallops, cod made due to biomass declines

Published on
December 15, 2021
The New England Fishery Management Council has signed off on fishing year specifications for the region’s cod and scallop fisheries, with cuts to both due to lower biomass.

The New England Fishery Management Council has signed off on fishing year specifications for the region’s cod and scallop fisheries, with cuts made to both due to lower biomass.

The overfishing level and allowable biological catch in the U.S. scallop fishery will continue a multi-year trend by decreasing once more, with the landings under the now-approved Framework 34 projected to total “roughly 34 million pounds.” That is a five-million-pound decrease from 2021’s projected catch of 39 million pounds, which itself was a significant decrease from 2020’s 47.5 million pounds.

Scallop landings have been on a predicted downward trend, dropping 26.5 million pounds from its high of 60.5 million pounds in 2019. Surveys and predictions of the stock have matched expectations, however, as the large landings in recent years were largely related to a single year-class that saw enormous recruitment.

“However, the biomass has declined from its record-high levels, as was expected to occur, now that the exceptionally strong 2012 year-class on Georges Bank and the 2013 year-class in the Mid-Atlantic Access Area are at the end of their life-cycles,” an NEFMC release states. “Recruitment of new scallops in the Mid-Atlantic has been below average since 2013.”

The large year-class reaching the end of its life-cycle means that the currently available scallops are from year-classes with lower levels of recruitment, resulting in understandable drops in biomass.

“Overall, the survey groups discovered that biomass in the Mid-Atlantic Access Area is down substantially,” a release from the NEFMC said in October. “While blips of pre-recruit scallops occasionally were found, the survey teams did not see signs of another strong incoming year class.”

However, according to a council release, the “Atlantic-sea scallop resource is healthy,” and the stock is not being overfished, nor is overfishing occurring.

For the full-time fleet, there will be three access-area trips and 24 open-area days. Vessels with full-time limited-access permits will be allowed to fish two trips in Closed Area II Southwest Extension, and one in Nantucket Lightship South. Area trip possession limits are limited to 15,000 pounds – vessels are “allocated a total of 45,000 pounds – 30,000 pounds of which can be fished in Closed Area II and 15,000 pounds in Nantucket Lightship South,” NEFMC stated. Vessels fishing the Nantucket Lightship South area will be allowed to carry extra crew, as the scallops in the region are smaller and increased effort is required to shuck the catch.

The changes to the full-time fleet represent a decrease from four closed-area trips to three, and a reduction in catch limits from 18,000 pounds.

The part-time fleet will receive two access area trips and 9.6 open area days. The possession limit is 9,000 pounds.

As predicted, the council also opted to close Nantucket Lightship West due to the discovery of a large set of young scallops. The council closed the area “to give them a better chance of growing and contributing to the fishery down the road.”

Currently, the council predicts that the revenue generated by the scallop fishery under Framework 34 – which still needs full approval via NOAA – would be USD 437 million (EUR 387 million), based on pricing data from 2021.

Scallop prices were high throughout much of 2021. Despite the high prices, the value still represents a significant drop from the total 2019 catch value of USD 570 million (EUR 506 million).

The scallop fishery is not the only one grappling with cuts to its allowable catch. The NEFMC also announced cuts to the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank cod for 2022.

Georges Bank saw the most-significant cuts to cod, with the council deciding to slash the sub-annual catch limit by 78 percent from 1,093 metric tons (MT) to just 244 MT. Gulf of Maine cod, in contrast, will remain the same, at 270 MT. In total, the entire cod catch in the region will be just 514 MT.

According to the council, both Georges Bank and Gulf of Maine cod are overfished, though in the Gulf of Maine’s case it is unclear whether overfishing is occurring. Perhaps even worse in the Gulf of Maine’s case, there appears to be fewer young fish.

“Fishery and survey data continue to show few older fish in the population and few incoming recruits – the new year classes of young fish,” NEFMC said.  

Photo courtesy of the New England Fishery Management Council/Virginia Institute of Marine Science

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