November is offering up some hopeful news in the closely-related worlds of both commercial and recreational fisheries.
The scallop season in state waters began on Nov. 7, and while scallopers say their harvests have not been quite as robust as they were last year, it might not follow that the scallop population has dwindled because there are considerably more scallopers working this year. It could be the pie is even bigger, but the slices are smaller. Town waters open to scallopers on Monday.
The population of Peconic Bay scallops has yet to recover from the brown algae blooms that decimated it beginning in the mid-1980s, but it has become clear that spawner sanctuaries created by Long Island University, in cooperation with Cornell Cooperative Extension, Stony Brook University at Southampton, and Suffolk County, have spurred overall growth.
“Cooperative Extension grows them and we do the science,” said Steven Tettlebach of Long Island University. “The sanctuaries have added unequivocally to the populations. It’s making a big difference.”
While the delicious bivalves no longer carpet the bottoms of local bays and harbors, there are enough to support a “derby” fishery, the name for a short, gold-rush type of harvest. This puts a strain on shuckers and can glut the market, but retail prices were holding steady this week at about $25 per pound.
Mr. Tettlebach noted that the scallop meats seemed to be bigger this year. “Usually there’s between 50 and 52 meats per pound. This year its 40 per pound.”
The promising news, according to Greg Rivara, a shellfish specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension, is the nearly 10 to 1 ratio of bug (juvenile) scallops to adults. “Don’t count your scallops too soon, of course; a lot can happen in a year, but some of the bugs are big enough to harvest now.”
He explained that the presence of bigger bugs was important for a few reasons. If left alone, they have a better chance of surviving the winter. Mr. Rivara said it was a counterintuitive fact that if the currently warm Peconic Estuary should remain unseasonably warm through the winter, scallops will have a harder time. “You want cold, even ice, on the bays because you get more hibernation,” the marine biologist said. Warm water makes them use energy reserves only the bigger scallops may have.
Bigger bugs also have the potential to help the overall stock due to their greater fecundity. “The bigger the animal the more eggs he/she has, in the case of scallops. And, bigger bugs are known to spawn twice in a year,” Mr. Rivara said.
In other fisheries news, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the federally empowered body that oversees migratory stocks along the coast, voted to postpone any change in the striped bass management plan despite calls by New England states for a harvest reduction.
The A.S.M.F.C. also voted to delay until Jan. 1, 2013, a 10-percent reduction in the southern New England lobster harvest, a position the East Hampton town Baymen’s Association advocated. It was a far better outcome than the 75-percent reduction or even a total fishing moratorium, which was threatened earlier in the year.
“Commercial guys are not against management when a stock is in trouble, but wiping out a whole gear type with one stroke so that a fishery becomes valueless is not good management. This was a good-as-can-be outcome,” said Arnold Leo, secretary of the East Hampton Town Baymen’s Association. Mr. Leo traveled to Boston for the commission meeting on Nov. 7.
As for striped bass, the annual young-of-the-year index surveys conducted by the states bordering the coast’s bass nurseries have found close to record-breaking levels of baby bass. Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina report numbers well above average in the Chesapeake Bay. Delaware’s survey met the average mark, as did New York’s Hudson River survey.
Mr. Leo said news of the great numbers of baby bass had only just been reported and was not included in a coastwide striped bass stock assessment announced during last week’s commission meeting. Without the good tidings figured in, managers had concluded that by 2017 — assuming average “recuitment” (juvenile fish entering harvestable age) — the number of bass aged 8 years and older would sink close to a threshold below which reductions in catch would be needed.
“The record young-of-the-year projection has thrown those concerns into irrevelence. By 2017 there should be a huge number of fish from the 2011 year class,” Mr. Leo said.
He said the current assessment put the total stock of striped bass at 168 percent above the action threshold even without adding the 2011 young-of-the-year data. The commission’s striped bass committee decided that any further action to amend the striped bass management plan would be postponed until after completion of a benchmark stock assessment due out in June of 2013.