January 29, 2010

A welcome surprise for islanders: Bay scallop season is now open


News that the Pamlico Sound bay scallop fishery opens Monday, Feb. 1, spread around Hatteras Island like butter on a hot griddle.
The state announced the opening Friday, Jan. 30, after analyzing results from sampling tests run in eastern Pamlico Sound late in January.

The estimate of bay scallop abundance was the highest recorded in the three years the Division of Marine Fisheries has sampled in the area.

“This opening is in accordance with the state’s Bay Scallop Fishery Management Plan, which allows for bay scallop harvests when populations reach predetermined thresholds,” said Louis Daniel, DMF director.

The catch-per-unit effort in the January, 2010, sampling averaged 3.44 scallops per square meter.  

That figure stands in sharp contrast to October, 2009, testing that indicated fewer than one scallop per meter, a level that does not support harvest, according to state biologists.

Hatteras Island fishermen were stunned by the October results, calling the results an anomaly that did not jibe with what they were seeing in the sound.  Some suggested that the disappointing results might have been influenced by the heavy rains and winds that marked October or by water temperatures much higher than in previous sampling periods.

Charter-boat captain Scott Caldwell, who operates Coastal Inshore Charters in Hatteras village, said the discrepancy between the October scientific sampling and what he saw on the water everyday puzzled him.

He runs his boat, the Elizabeth Grace, on fishing and clamming trips, sometimes twice a day, for more than 150 days each year.

“I’ve been doing this 15 years and I’d never seen the scallops so plentiful before that they interfered with clamming,” he said.

Caldwell and other island residents called DMF to express their frustration.

“The people at DMF were interested in our concerns and agreed to sample the area again and reassess if those results showed something different from the October sampling,” Caldwell said.

The bay scallop season comes at a slow time for inshore commercial fishermen on the island.  Fishermen don’t make large profits in the fishery, but say the scallop season helps fill the void between southern flounder and blue crab fishing.

The fishery also helps island families augment their food budgets.

Louis Daniel said the Pamlico Sound scallop fishery will be managed under the same rules as last year.

Commercial fishermen will be allowed to harvest up to five bushels of scallops on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Recreational fishermen will be allowed one-half bushel on Saturdays and Sundays.

Scallops can be taken by hand, with hand rakes, hand tongs, dip nets, and scoops.  The season will close April 1.

The fishery will remain closed in other parts of the coast.

The 2010 season is just the second season in North Carolina since 2005.  The fishery was closed for both commercial and recreational fishermen in 2006 after commercial harvests flat-lined for two consecutive years.  A management plan adopted the following year set the biological thresholds for re-opening the fishery.

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