2020 2020: How many sea scallops are there and why does it matter?
How many sea scallops are there and why does it matter?

Groundbreaking research conducted by Dr. Kevin Stokesbury of SMAST appears as this month's cover story in the Ecological Society of America's "Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment" journal.

Dr. Kevin Stokesbury's advanced underwater video technology captures imagery of scallops at high density.

A study conducted by Dr. Kevin Stokesbury is featured as the cover story in the November 2020 issue of the Ecological Society of America's Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment journal (Volume 18, Issue 9). The study, titled “How many sea scallops are there and why does it matter?” focuses on the effects of climate change, oceanic conditions along the Atlantic Coast of North America that are changing, as well as surface water temperatures in the Gulf of Maine, which have increased faster than 99% of the global oceans. The research examines the role of the sea scallop as a baseline sentinel species that can be used to measure the impacts of environmental change and anthropogenic developments.

“In Canada and the US, the Atlantic sea scallop (Placopecten magellanicus) supports lucrative fisheries, which are founded on an extensive scientific framework focusing on stock assessment,” explains Dr. Stokesbury, professor of Fisheries Oceanography at UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology. “The sea scallop is an ideal sentinel species, as it is highly sensitive to changes in marine conditions. We used a drop camera system to estimate the number and size of scallops, as well as the distribution of their reproductive potential, over 70,000 km2 of the continental shelf in 2016–2018, an area that nearly covers the entire range of this species. In total, we estimated that there were 34 billion individual scallops (95% confidence limits: 22–46 billion) within the species’ range.”


  • Estimates of the number of individuals of an abundant marine species are both unusual and scarce
  • A drop camera system was used to approximate the number and size of Atlantic sea scallops (Placopecten magellanicus) over an area that encompassed virtually the species’ entire range
  • Photographic quadrats allow for estimation of the sea scallop’s spatial distribution at scales ranging from centimeters to thousands of kilometers, as well as its habitat productivity
  • The sea scallop is an ideal sentinel species to track ocean health and climate change impacts

Dr. N. David Bethoney, executive director of the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation, collaborated with Dr. Stokesbury on this survey, which was made possible by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) awards through the Scallop Research set-aside program, and the sea scallop fishery and supporting industries of Canada and the United States.

About Dr. Stokesbury

Kevin Stokesbury earned his PhD in Marine Ecology at the Universite Laval in 1994. In 2000, he joined UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology as a faculty member and has served as chair for the Department of Fisheries Oceanography.

His groundbreaking research using advanced underwater video technology has been pivotal in the revival of the scallop industry, helping the city of New Bedford maintain its position as the nation’s No.1 fishing port for more than a decade. The technology, developed by him and his team of SMAST researchers counts and identifies fish while underwater, helping protect specific breeds, identify specific species in every image and help regulators manage the fishery. His research using their groundfish survey system has been featured on PBS's NOVA Next.

In 2018, The Standard-Times/SouthCoastToday.com named Dr. Kevin Stokesbury 2018 "SouthCoast Man of the Year" for his continued research contributions to the fishing industry on the SouthCoast. Stokesbury was called a “pathfinder” who has helped bridge the gap between academia, industry, and government.