On Tuesday evening (8/16/11) the F/V Edgartown returned to New Bedford from surveying the central historic scallop fishing grounds in the Gulf of Maine (Platt's Bank, Fippennies, Cashes and Jefferies Ledges) marking the completion of the 2011 cooperative SMAST-Industry scallop video survey. This cooperative research program with the scallop industry began in 1999 and has contributed to the success of scallop rotational management, resulting in one of the best managed fisheries in the U.S. with record yields and a stable, high biomass.
The information collected during the previous nine cruises to Georges Bank and the Mid-Atlantic was presented to the Scallop Fishermen's Steering Committee on Tuesday 9 August 2011. Within the survey area sampled each year by SMAST, the overall biomass of the stock remained constant with 322 million lbs in 2010 and 323 million lbs in 2011. In fact, despite recent harvest, the exploitable biomass (collectable in a 4" ring) increased from 233 to 241 million lbs.
The 2011 survey included areas outside the standard sampling area. Exploring of these areas arose from discussions with the fishing industry and the Northeast Fisheries Science Center's 2010 scallop stock assessment workshops. Responding to this the New England Fishery Management Council's Atlantic sea scallop Fishery Management Plan Development Team set exploring new areas as a research priority. As a result the Council provided Research Set Aside funds. An additional 26.5 million lbs of scallops, 23.2 million lbs of which are outside the National Marine Fisheries Service survey strata, representing 7% of the entire resource was observed. This is a good example of how the SMAST program can quickly respond to the need for updated scientific information.
The SMAST video survey season ran smoothly due to the hard work of the staff and students and the continued close cooperation with the fishing industry. For each of the 10 cruises the dredge gear had to be removed from the vessel, and the SMAST sampling pyramid, hydraulic winch and pilot house equipment had to be loaded and assembled. This took two days to set-up, starting with a call to Blue Fleet Crane Service to pick up and load the gear onto the vessel. The vessels sailed with two scientists, two fishermen and new students who were being trained in the field procedure.
Jon Carey was responsible for the logistics and equipment transfer and organization of all cruises. Jon managed these 10 cruises while also completing and defending his Master's of Science thesis entitled "Physical and biological influences on juvenile sea scallop (Placopecten magellanicus) distribution on Georges Bank and the Mid-Atlantic Bight" and winning the Alan Ansell Memorial Award for Best Student Presentation on his research at the International Pectinid Workshop in Qingdao, China.
Tom Jaffarian developed a custom field application that records the station number, latitude, longitude, depth, number of scallops observed, substrate and biota, and a linked laboratory application which captures the video footage, verifies and updates the field collected data, quality controls the data and incorporates it into our interactive database. Tom also had the most days at sea for the lab again this year completing five of the ten cruises.
Cate O'Keefe, as scallop program manager and a member of the New England Fisheries Management Council Scallop Plan Development Team, oversaw the entire operation and presented the SMAST research. Cate completed a survey trip early in the season then focused on expanding the yellowtail bycatch avoidance program for Closed Areas I and II including over 200 vessels, which is also part of her PhD research. This program is still underway as the closed area fisheries have remained open, and to date there has been very little bycatch from these areas.
Susan Inglis is a new addition to the laboratory and is completing her PhD from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She is studying scallop seasonal growth based on our cooperative industry tagging studies, isotopic measurements of scallop shells, and energetics. She also has continued research on seasonal meat weight variations, specifically looking at the unusually large meats that occurred in the Mid-Atlantic this spring.
Two students graduated and left our program this spring. Dr. Brad Harris defended his PhD dissertation entitled "Habitat conditions in persistent high-concentration sea scallop (Placopecten magellanicus) aggregations on Georges Bank, USA" and was immediately hired as an Assistant Professor at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage. Carly Mott examined factors that influence scallop growth and defended her Master's thesis entitled "Examining variation in sea scallop shell growth and environmental conditions across Georges Bank and the Mid-Atlantic."
Katherine Thompson joined the lab as a new Master's student and will be studying spawning events in scallops. Katherine worked as a deck hand in the lobster fishery in Maine and has already been to sea several times on the video surveys and in support of the RSA-funded yellowtail bycatch surveys in collaboration with Ron Smolowitz of Coonamessett Farm and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
Erin Adams participated in three surveys while conducting our educational outreach program and developing her Master's degree research with Professor Dan Georgianna, who also sailed on the Gulf of Maine video survey.
Dave Bethoney sailed on several surveys helping the scallop program while conducting his PhD research on reducing river herring bycatch in the Atlantic herring and mackerel trawl fisheries. Dave is a versatile researcher who recently published his Master's thesis work on lobsters entitled "Association between diet and epizootic shell disease in the American lobster (Homarus Americanus) around western Martha's Vineyard using 15N signatures".
Each video survey trip sampled between 200 and 400 stations with four drops of the SMAST pyramid at each station using four cameras to collect data from different views and angles of the sea floor. After each trip the recorded video footage was examined by summer interns, a group of undergraduate and graduate students hired to gain experience in marine science and fisheries. Over 50 different fish and invertebrates are identified along with 15 different combinations of substrate type for habitat classification. Courtney Donovan developed a training program and quality control testing procedure that each new student must complete before working on the field data. This year Samuel Asci, Kyle Cassidy, Andrea Carey, Courtney Donovan and Sarah Rocha worked long hours analyzing the field collected video data and participated in some of the ten survey trips.
As in past years the industry support has been exceptional. Food, fuel, vessels and crew time were all donated from the fleet and supporting industries.
This year's survey data are critical because for the first time the industry will face Accountability Measures if they exceed the 2011 Annual Catch Limit (ACL) of 55 million lbs for limited access vessels. The Accountability Measures would reduce the number of Days at Sea and area available to fish in 2012. In 2010, the overall landings were 56.7 million lbs. In 2011 the overall ACL is 60 million. Our survey data indicate that the scallop resource has not decreased and that there is an additional 23 million lbs outside the traditional survey area. These results confirm the assumptions that were used to increase the overall estimate of scallop abundance during the 2010 sea scallop stock assessment. They also provide additional survey data that will allow the New England Fishery Management Council to refine the ACL for subsequent years. Finally, they provide the good news that there is a harvestable scallop resource today in areas where scallops were largely absent a decade ago.