Sea scallop fishery focus of $1.6M NOAA Award to UNE and partners

UNE students Karson Coutre and Ryan Knotek conducting scallop research
UNE students Karson Coutre and Ryan Knotek conducting scallop research

June 10, 2014

James Sulikowski
James Sulikowski

A University of New England researcher and two co-investigators have been awarded a $1.6 million National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant to study incidental mortality of Atlantic sea scallops, the nation’s highest-valued single species commercial fishery.

The grant, funded by NOAA’s Sea Scallop Research Set Aside Program, awards $1.6 million for UNE and its partners to study “Discard Mortality of Sea Scallops Following Capture and Handling in the Sea Scallop Dredge Fishery.”

Principal investigators on the project are James Sulikowski, Ph.D., a professor in UNE Department of Marine Sciences, John Mandelman, Ph.D., from the New England Aquarium, and David Rudders, Ph.D., of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, who is the lead scientist on the project. The researchers will investigate the rate of incidental mortality of sea scallops exposed to commercial dredging.

Ten undergraduate and two graduate UNE students will actively participate in the research study.

In 2013, NOAA Fisheries instituted several measures aimed at protecting young scallops and maximizing future harvest potential, including reduced catch quotas.  Since 2007, Maine fishermen and the Department of Marine Resources have worked together to rebuild Maine's scallop resource, and in 2013 the value of the fishery was the highest in 15 years, at more than $5 million; landings alone were 424,547 meat pounds,  the highest in 13 years.

Background

Sea scallop (Placopecten magellanicus) management efforts over the past 20 years have encouraged the harvest of larger animals through gear modifications, effort controls, crew size limitations and spatial management to protect juvenile scallops. While these measures have been effective in reducing the harvest of small scallops, their capture still occurs.

Fully understanding the impact of the fishery on the resource requires a comprehensive estimate of the non-harvest mortality associated with commercial operations. Non-harvest mortality can be broken down into a number of different processes, with discard mortality (the rate of mortality associated with animals that are captured and released) being a major category. The latest stock assessment for sea scallops assumes that 20 percent of all animals discarded will die. There is considerable uncertainty associated with this estimate that is based on a single older tagging study and studies examining a non-Placopecten species under different biotic and abiotic conditions.

Current research

The sea scallop fishery is the most valuable single species fishery along the East Coast, valued at over $558 million. Estimates of discard mortality have wide-ranging implications, starting as assumptions in the stock assessment models that ultimately manifest themselves in the manner by which the fishery is managed. Understanding this complicated process is essential to characterizing the impact that the fishery has on the resource.

To better understand these uncertainties, the study will estimate the short-term discard mortality rate of sea scallops in the commercial dredge fishery. The mortality estimates will be dependent on a range of factors that contribute to scallop discard mortality, such as physical trauma, environmental conditions, and biological characteristics.

At the completion of the project, Sulikowski and his colleagues will provide fine-scale scallop discard mortality estimates for incorporation into management, as well as a robust scallop vitality index that supports the expansion of the investigation of mortality rates in time and space, along with recommendations for best management practices to reduce the mortality of discarded scallops.

Sulikowski says, “The findings from this study will contribute to better management of this incredibly valuable resource, and help invigorate the scallop fishery here in Maine. We are also pleased to offer unique and significant hands-on research opportunities to our students, better preparing them for successful and meaningful careers in the marine sciences.” 

UNE impact

Research conducted by Sulikowski, UNE faculty and students continues to have a significant impact on the marine economy and important policy. For example:

  • In 2012 Sulikowski's research on spiny dogfish was cited by the Marine Stewardship Council, when it announced the Atlantic dogfish fishery had been certified as Sustainable. This certification opened up spiny dogfish markets in Europe and other areas of the world that require certification. This research was funded with $337,000 from NOAA and $227,000 from the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation.
     
  • Based on research conducted by Sulikowksi and Mandelman with a $247,000 NOAA grant, that agency in 2011 increased the amount of skate that fisherman could land from 31 million to 48 million pounds. In announcing the decision, NOAA explained that “the quota increase will boost revenues for many fishermen and related fishing businesses, while maintaining our responsibility to important conservation objectives.”