Research set-aside helps support Atlantic sea scallop fishery

7:50 a.m., July 29, 2014 – A recent article in News from the nation’s restaurants calls the scallop “the mollusk of the moment,” but just 20 years ago the American sea scallop fishery was unsustainable, with a population near its lowest point and a fishery at an all time high.

Fortunately, the industry underwent a complete turnaround in the late 1990s thanks to the collaborative work of scallop fishermen, scientists, fisheries managers and environmentalists. Today, a research set-aside program, funded entirely by the proceeds from the sale of a portion of the annual sea scallop quota, helps ensure that the fishery remains healthy.


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UD’s Millicent Sullivan and Kristi Kiick received a $ 1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for research that may provide a new approach to treating chronic wounds.

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The American Chemical Society highlights the legacy of the late Nobel Laureate Richard Heck, Willis F. Harrington Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at the University of Delaware with a digital tribute on its publications website.

Art Trembanis, associate professor at College of the Earth, the Ocean and the Environment to University of Delaware, is one of more than 30 researchers from 14 organizations to receive a research grant under the 2014-2015 Fallow Program, which is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Trembanis heads the coastal sediment, hydrodynamics and engineering laboratory (C-SHEL) at the UD.

Collaborators on the two-year, $ 1.6 million project, which tackles the accidental mortality of sea scallops exposed to commercial dredging, include Doug Miller, a benthic oceanographer and ecologist at the School of Marine Science and Policy at the ‘UD, David Rudders from Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, and the brothers Arthur and Kenneth Ochse, captains of the F / V Christian and Alexa.

Dredge him

Sea scallops are the most valuable single-species commercial fishery in the country, with the industry valued at over $ 500 million per year.

Trembanis explains that popular mollusks are typically harvested by dredging, with rings on the equipment designed to catch mature scallops and allow the young to fall through.

Some are inevitably lost in the process. For example, small scallops that pass through the rings can be raked and crushed by the dredge. Others who are too small to keep can be caught by the dredge anyway, and then die after being sent back into the ocean.

“While scallops are one of the most lucrative fisheries on the East Coast, dredging can be a destructive sampling method that damages much of the seabed and leaves many animals compromised,” says Danielle Ferraro, candidate. to the master’s degree in oceanography which is part of the research team.

Using a combined research platform consisting of a commercial scallop dredge and an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), the researchers hope to quantify the accidental scallop mortality resulting from dredging so that the fishery can be managed more effectively. effectively.

Highway under the sea

To begin work on the project, Trembanis and his team recently completed an eight-day, 60-mile research cruise off Bethany Beach, Delaware, the first of several such trips they will take over the next two. years.

In just over a week, the AUV captured nearly 200,000 sequential images of the seabed in 20 mission areas, each the length of The Green on the DU campus and the width of a great interstate highway.

The AUV travels the seabed taking photos, side scan sonar and videos ?? both just before and after the dredge has passed ?? collect information on its impact on the seabed and marine life.

“We basically mapped out a four lane submarine highway and told the fisherman they had to drive on it ?? with precision, ”says Trembanis. “With the waves crashing into the boat and the lack of signage, it’s a pretty tough mission.”

But the search team was on board the F / V Christian and Alexa with the Ochse brothers, experts in the art of navigating the scallop-rich waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

“Together, Art and Ken have over 75 years of experience and they bring a wealth of knowledge to the project,” says Trembanis. “They know these areas like farmers know their fields. Do they know where it’s sandy, where it’s muddy and where there are snags ?? and we are talking about a harvest area that is larger than the adjacent coastal area.

Direct impact

Trembanis welcomes the captains of the fishing boats as co-investigators of the project.

“They are smart, well educated and successful,” he says. “And they’re as passionate about science as we are because the work has a direct impact on their livelihood. “

The students of the team also benefit from their involvement in a project that impacts not only fishermen but also the economies of communities in the region.

“This project is unique because we are dealing directly with the fishery that is influenced,” says Ken Haulsee, an undergraduate geology student doing an internship at Trembanis. “Plus, it’s great to participate in a self-sustaining project, because the profits from the scallop fishery directly fund research. I feel very lucky to participate in this project because it has such a tangible impact on an economically important fishery.

The future

Next year, Trembanis and his team will travel to a harvest area off the coast of New England, where the seabed is harder and more paved than in the mid-Atlantic.

“We want to see if the effects are different there than in the more sandy areas off the coasts of Delaware and New Jersey,” he says.

Ferraro, who is interested in observing a species and its habitat’s response to human interference, hopes clarifying the physical impact of scallop dredging will lead to changes in the way shellfish are caught. .

“I would like to see the development of a harvesting method that minimizes the impact on the population,” she says. “For now, however, we hope to provide a more accurate estimate of incidental mortality so that scallops and fisheries managers can continue to research best practices.”

C-SHEL on YouTube

Click on here see the school of sharks the team encountered one day just under the boat.

Click on here to watch the dredge being pulled on the seabed.

Also, for a video of the team working with an AUV, click here.

About the set-aside program

Thirty-one researchers from 14 organizations in Massachusetts, Maine, Delaware and Virginia received 2014-2015 research grants focused on Atlantic scallops. The researchers are working on 16 projects totaling just over $ 16.5 million. Organizations involved include universities, nonprofit research and education foundations, a hatchery, commercial fishing vessels and companies, and a national fisheries agency.

Research set-aside programs (RSA) are unique to federal fisheries in the northeast region, which includes the mid-Atlantic. Under RSA, no federal funding is provided to support research; instead, funding is provided by giving recipients allocations set aside for certain fisheries managed by quota or by days at sea. The allocations are then harvested and sold or auctioned to provide funds for research.

Special committees of federal regional fisheries management councils set research priorities, and researchers compete for funding. NOAA Fisheries manages the competition, award and reporting process, but does not retain or use any research funds.

Research results will be used to improve sea scallop recruitment and mortality, assess the impacts of future ocean acidification and warming on scallop shells and flesh weight, assess abundance and distribution scallops in several areas, develop fishing gear that reduces bycatch of flatfish and sea turtles and use new technologies for better sampling and better monitoring of sea scallop populations and their habitats.

Article by Diane Kukich

Photos courtesy of Art Trembanis


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