View Full Version : One seafood industry found a way to rebound

08-18-2008, 05:26 PM
One seafood industry found a way to rebound

Virginia (http://www.dailypress.com/topic/us/virginia-PLGEO100101100000000.topic)'s scallop industry took an overworked fishery

and turned it into the state's most valuable one.

As Virginia's seafood industries built on the Chesapeake Bay (http://www.dailypress.com/topic/us/virginia/bedford-county-%28virginia%29/bedford-%28bedford-virginia%29-PLGEO100101111010000.topic) struggle, the state's most lucrative fishing industry — sea scallops — can likely look forward to a good year in 2009.

The scallop business is still booming in Virginia. And in 2009, a region a few hours off the coast that has been closed since 2005 will likely reopen as part of rotational scheme designed to protect the fishery. Scallops bring in, by far, the most value of any species at Virginia seafood docks, about $53 million a year in the most recent statistics — and that number is down since a handful of Virginia boats moved up to Massachusetts (http://www.dailypress.com/topic/us/massachusetts-PLGEO100102700000000.topic).

But what's perhaps most striking about the sea scallop fishery is this: It's one of the most ecologically sound on the East Coast, even though 15 years ago, it was at rock bottom.

Atlantic sea scallops stand as evidence that depleted fishing stocks can recover with the right guidance. Beginning with concern in the late 1980s, a collaboration between scientists and industry created a plan to not only revitalize the stocks from Cape Hatteras (http://www.dailypress.com/topic/us/north-carolina/dare-county/avon-%28dare-north-carolina%29/hatteras-PLGEO100100904010400.topic), N.C. (http://www.dailypress.com/topic/us/north-carolina-PLGEO100100900000000.topic), to Maine (http://www.dailypress.com/topic/us/maine-PLGEO100102600000000.topic) but to protect them going forward.

Fifteen years ago, Virginia scallop boat captains steered their vessels over uncertain ground, dragging their dredges on rocky bottom and hoping to find a few more pounds of scallops. Catching 400 pounds a day wasn't rare, and the scallop fleet was dredging up an unhealthy number of scallops. "We were killing just about every 3-year-old scallop in the ocean," Virginia Institute of Marine Science professor Bill DuPaul said.

An average day now hauls in about 2,500 pounds, and the occasional boon will land more than 4,000 a day, those in the industry say. The management plan lets the scallops live longer and grow larger before harvest, leading to huge increases in catch in the past decade.

"We have record landings," DuPaul said. "We're taking advantage of the growth. They're catching the same number of scallops but getting twice the weight. It's an exciting fishery. The management seems to be working quite well. This is the economic engine that's running our commercial fishing industry."

Meanwhile, the sea scallop stock is as sound as ever, DuPaul said. He and fellow VIMS researcher Dave Rudders just completed a weeklong survey trip — led by Seaford-based scallop boat captain Jose Araiza — to what's called the DelMarVa closed area. It's one of six "closed areas" on the East Coast that are opened and closed on a rotating basis to let the scallops there flourish.

Their survey work itself is evidence of how scientists and the industry — two sides often at odds in other fisheries — work together. Boat owners belong to a collective that sets aside 2 percent of their catch in the closed areas to pay for independent research. In the closed areas, scientists make the call on allowable catch limits after surveying the volume of scallops that they find there.

There's also a tight limit on the number of boats allowed in the fishery. The largest fleet on the East Coast is based in New Bedford, Mass., and the Hampton Roads (http://www.dailypress.com/topic/travel/tourism-leisure/hampton-roads-PLTRA0000001.topic) fleet is second. On the Peninsula, scallop boats tie up in Hampton, Seaford and Newport News.

The transition from troubled fishery to success story was still marked by questioning, industry representatives said. Strict new regulations were first put in place in the early 1990s, but it wasn't until 2000 or 2001 that results were seen in the size of the catch.

"Obviously, there was some doubt," said Frank McLaughlin, general manager of Chesapeake Bay Packing, which processes scallops at Newport News' small-boat harbor.

But the changes have allowed the domestic scallop market to thrive, McLaughlin said.

"Our scallop has completely rebuilt its stocks," he said. "We were using so many imported scallops: Peru, China, Mexico. Chinese farm-raised scallops. There were some rocky moments. We knew we needed to bite the bullet or swallow the sword and it'd come around. And it did."