2019 scallop season will likely see big numbers - 10.03.18
At a NEFMC meeting on 25 September, the council got a run-down of the current assessments before making a decision on what the fishery would look like in the coming year. The current surveys show extremely high densities of scallops in multiple regions.
“We’re at the highest level of biomass in the timeseries 1975-2017,” said Jonathan Peros, a staff member of the NEFMC.
Part of that is the encroaching maturation of the largest recruitment event in the fishery’s history, which occurred back in 2012.
“These animals are starting to come into the fishery,” said Peros. “We’re now starting to see two of the largest year classes coming into the fishery.”
Most of the harvest areas have enough biomass available to support some trips, with some estimated to have over a hundred million pounds of exploitable biomass available. That news comes on the wake of a banner year, with projected landings for the 2018 fishery sitting at 56 million pounds.
Those high numbers are likely why the council quickly and unanimously approved a total of seven access area trips, with a 15,000 pound trip limit for full time limited access vessels. The council allowed for one trip in Closed Area I, one trip in Closed Area II, three trips in the Nantucket Lightship-West area, and two trips in the Mid-Atlantic Access Area.
In a more controversial decision, the council rejected a move to increase the individual fishing quotient possession limit, which would have increased the possession limit per trip. After some discussion, the council was split 8 – 8, with one abstention, on the issue.
For the council, increasing the trip limit could have negative consequences down the road as it could delay important regulatory work, which would in turn delay the start of the fishing season.
“If we were in a position to vote on a trip limit increase right now, I’d vote in favor,” said Dr. Michael Sissenwine, an at-large member of the council.
Elizabeth Etrie, another member of the council, said she too had misgivings about moving forward with anything without a further vetting of the idea before the scallop committee.
“I would be more comfortable if this was coming from the committee process,” she said.
For other council members, the issue was too important to put off any longer.
“If we vote this motion down, I feel like we’re telling the folks that this issue has to get back in line for priorities,” said at-large council member John Pappalardo. “There’s no cost to voting this up, and seeing if and when the committee chairman can create time on the agenda for conversation.”
Fishermen were in support of the increase in light of the new realities they’re facing as a scallop fishery. In 2005, the fishery was changed into an individual fishing quota fishery. For a few fishermen present at the council meeting, the changes have caused a shift in the industry and the costs, especially for newer fishermen who struggle to acquire quota and have initial expenses.
“We can’t be looking at this as it was prior to an IFQ fishery, we need to be looking at it as a business,” said one fisherman.
With the decision, however, any potential increase in possession limits will likely have to wait another season.
By Chris Chase, Associate Editor