The East Coast scallop fleet is expected to land around 25 million pounds in the 2023 fishing year – about half of the landings from 2018 through 2020 that exceeded 50 million pounds, according to the New England Fishery Management Council.
Those boom times were driven by exceptionally big 2012-2013 year classes of scallops. Now the 2022 survey results show biomass is at its lowest since 1999. Yet scallops are not overfished and the stock is healthy, although the biomass has been coasting down with lower recruitment since 2013, according to a summary of the council’s Dec. 5-9 meeting at Newport, R.I.
The 2023 scallop fishing year begins on April 1, and the council staff expects most fishing effort will focus around Georges Bank, shifting north from the Mid-Atlantic where recruitment has been below average.
The value of landings for 2023 is projected at $398 million – far less than $670 million that 43 million pounds landed fetched in 2021.
For two decades, a management system of rotational area closures has helped ensure the U.S. Atlantic scallop fishery is one of the richest and most sustainable anywhere. The council is setting aside four closed areas for 2023:
- Area I east of Cape Cod: Surveys in 2022 found strong recruitment in this area.
- Nantucket Lightship West: Also closed during 2022, the Lightship West area continues to harbor concentrations of scallops that are too small to be retained by the 4-inch rings in scallop dredges.
- New York Bight: This 2022 area closure is continuing through 2023, as the council believes another year of protection will yield scallops that can contribute to landings next year.
- Elephant Trunk: A hugely productive area in years past, Elephant Truck surveys in 2022 “found notable concentrations of small scallops around 55 millimeters,” according to the council summary. “Without fishing pressure, the closure here will help these scallops optimize their growth and allow them to spawn before being harvested.”
The council also supported allocating:
•Two 12,000-pound access area trips into Area II and 24 open area days-at-sea for full-time limited access scallop permit holders.
- One 9,600-pound trip into Area II and 9.6 open area days-at-sea for part-time permit holders.
“Given that many of these vessels are smaller in size and have additional weather and range challenges in reaching Area II, the council voted to allow LAGC (limited access general category) IFQ vessels to fish their access area trips in the Nantucket Lightship North in addition to Area II,” according to the council summary. The Nantucket Lightship North will be reserved for LAGC IFQ access area fishing from April 1, 2023 through June 30, 2023.
“On July 1, 2023, the Nantucket Lightship North will revert to open bottom for limited access vessels fishing on open area days-at-sea. LAGC IFQ vessels will be able to continue fishing the area until the total number of access area trips have been taken. After that, the area will be accessible to LAGC IFQ vessels as open bottom.”