Bay scallop season is open again on Hatteras and OcracokeBy SUSAN WEST
Outer Bankers and their Core Sound neighbors are allowed to harvest bay scallops from now until April.Louis Daniel, director of the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, issued a proclamation authorizing a limited fishery, after the state Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) approved the opening at their Jan. 22 meeting in Carolina Beach. “I’m very happy with the decision,” said Ginny Luizer, a recreational fisherwoman who lives in Frisco. “It indicates that the state is looking at the science, rather than molding the science to fit a solution.” The bay scallop fishery in North Carolina was closed in January, 2006, after commercial harvests flat-lined for two winters. A management plan approved in 2007 prohibited commercial and recreational harvest until sampling showed a high abundance of scallops. Patricia Smith, Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) public information officer, said the agency used the period of 1984-85, prior to the 1987 red tide that devastated the estuarine mollusks, as the biological target-point for reopening the fishery. “With the data showing good indicators of abundance, DMF felt it was appropriate for the MFC to consider a limited harvest season in Core Sound and in the eastern Pamlico Sound,” explained fisheries commissioner Jess Hawkins. The scientific information confirmed anecdotal reports by fishermen of large numbers of bay scallops in the sounds. Luizer and other Hatteras Island residents also pointed to soundside roads on the island littered with scallop shells, dropped from the sky by seagulls trying to crack them open.Hawkins said commissioners considered the short life cycle of scallops in making the decision to reopen the fishery.“Most only live from 14 to 18 months, and the maximum age is just 2 years,” he explained.He said bay scallops are susceptible to predation by cownose rays, habitat degradation, and weather conditions. Luizer said weather conditions in 2003 lined up to create an atmosphere not conducive to maintaining scallop populations.“The (Pamlico) sound froze that winter, rainfall reached record levels that spring, and then Hurricane Isabel hit us in the fall,” she noted.The proclamation opening the fishery authorizes the taking of scallops by hand or with hand rakes, hand tongs, dip nets, or scoops, but not with dredges. “Scallops are heavily dependent on healthy grass beds, little scallops attach to grass blades, so we felt the gear restriction was appropriate,” Hawkins said.Recreational fishermen can harvest up to one-half a bushel on Saturdays and Sundays, and commercial fishermen can bring in up to five bushels on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.Whether a commercial market will develop remains to be seen.“This won’t be like the out-of-state shellstocking market we used to have when the harvest limit was higher. We’ll sell the scallops local and keep the money local,” said Bradley Styron, owner of Cedar Island Seafood in Carteret County.Jeff Aiken, owner of Jeffrey’s Seafood in Hatteras, said developing a local market on the Outer Banks for a relatively expensive product could be a challenge given the downturn in the economy. Aiken also said the labor-intensive nature of scallop shucking would probably limit the number of commercial participants.Still, Styron noted that fishermen would not need to invest much in gear. “This will give some fishermen a little relief when they are between fishing seasons and have little to do,” he said.Styron said the yield of edible meat from a bushel of scallops would determine the bottom-line for fishermen.The market has supported prices as high as $40 to $50 per gallon, according to DMF director Daniel.