By Becky W. Evans
Standard-Times Staff Writer
Northeast sea scallop stocks have been rebuilt to sustainable levels and taken off a list of fish species regulators are legally required to manage back to healthy populations, according to a new report released by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The 2006 report on the status of U.S. fish stocks shows that scallops are “no longer subject to overfishing,” which the agency defines as having a harvesting rate that is at or below a prescribed fishing mortality rate. In other words, the current rate of fishing is not going to deplete the stock.
The change in status is good news for New Bedford’s profitable scallop industry, which helped the city earn its reputation as the top money-making fishing port in the country in 2005, with fish landings worth $282.5 million. Scallops are currently selling for around $6.50 per pound, down from nearly $10 per pound in December 2005.
Jim Kendall, a former scallop fisherman who heads up New Bedford Seafood Consulting, said he is happy to see scallop stocks “rebound so quickly.”
“We will possibly gain more fishing time or more landings,” Mr. Kendall said.
Fishery managers consider the status of the scallop stock each year before determining how many fishing days will be allotted to the scallop fleet, he said.
A healthier stock could translate into more fishing days, he said.
Kevin Stokesbury, who leads the scallop research program at the UMass Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology, said video surveys show that the sea scallop stock biomass, or total weight, has not changed the past three years.
“It is holding steady,” Dr. Stokesbury said.
Despite the overall health of the stock, he noted that there is “some concern” regarding low recruitment of young scallops, or the amount of scallops that are added to the exploitable stock each year.
This may not be a problem since recruitment occurs in “pulses” and is not always the same from year to year, he said.
Teri Frady, spokeswoman for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said achieving a sustainable population is “great news” for the scallop stock.
But fishery managers will have to remain vigilant about keeping the stock healthy, she said.
“Sustainability is not something that happens once,” she said. “You have to work on it all the time.”
The fisheries service releases an annual report that describes both the state of U.S. marine fisheries and the effectiveness of fisheries management under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The act was recently updated and now requires managers to revise fishery management plans to end overfishing by 2010.
The 2006 report, which was released Friday, shows 47 of 187 fish stocks and multi-species groupings were classified as overfished, or a stock size that is below sustainable levels. Another 48 stocks were found to be subject to overfishing.
“Overfishing must be solved now,” National Marine Fisheries Service director Bill Hogarth said in a statement.
“We have the right combination of legal tools to improve stewardship, and we’re moving full throttle ahead with implementing the new mandate to end overfishing so future generations of Americans can enjoy sustainable and healthy marine ecosystems.”