Monday, October 22, 2007

New scallop fishing gear designed to protect ocean bottom

BOSTON --If Cliff Goudey's new scallop dredge catches on, the future of the Northeast fishery won't look very futuristic, but there could be less debate about whether scallopers are ripping up the ocean floor.

Forget high-tech gadgetry. A simple angled line of large, inverted cups is the key feature of the dredge designed by Goudey, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sea Grant program.

On a traditional dredge, the scallops are knocked free of the ocean's bottom and into a trailing chain bag by a metal cutting bar. Environmentalists say that bar is the most damaging feature of the dredge, destroying the ocean floor habitat that marine life depend on for survival.

"It's been likened to a bulldozer going along the bottom," said Gib Brogan of the environmental group Oceana.

But Goudey's dredge replaces the cutting bar with the line of cups, which redirect the water flow created when the dredge moves, shooting it at the scallops and popping them off the sea floor.

Scientists differ about the effects of the fishing gear on the ocean floor. Ironically, Goudey believes the problem is hugely exaggerated. He said the traditional dredge moves so quickly it barely hits the bottom, and can't do the damage environmentalists claim.

His work, he hopes, can eventually help make the issue irrelevant.

"Right or wrong, the disturbance being caused is unnecessary," Goudey said. "If you can catch scallops without doing that, why not?"

The scallop is a shellfish about the size of an adult hand. Most people eat only the abductor muscle, which opens and shuts the animal's shell. Scallops are found worldwide, including off China and Japan, but the Atlantic scallop is larger than other species.

The Atlantic scallop fleet consists of 350 boats in ports from New England to Virginia, and another 400 or so smaller boats that fish scallops less frequently.

New Bedford's scallop fishery is hugely profitable and the reason the city has been the highest revenue fishing port in the country for seven straight years. Last year, the port's catch was worth $281 million.

Read the rest of the here. This could be good news, although there is debate as to the efficiency of the new dredge, and I find it hard to believe fisherman will embrace it unless forced. That being said, I do like hearing about this and would be interested to see if they could come up with a less destructive dredge for bay scallops, once that wouldn't destroy eelgrass beds, that would be great.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Have you ever considered that in the case of the bay scallop fishery, dredging may actually protects the eel grass beds and the scallops that depend on them by "cultivating" them on a yearly basis? (assuming of course, that the beds are not actually being destroyed in the process). Nitrogen loading in enclosed bays/estruaries has accelerated eutrouphication to dangerous levels with low DO events souring acres of once productrive bottom. Case in point... Westport MA. Within several years of the collapse of the fishery, 3- 12" of foul, apoxic silt had accumulated on once productive scallop beds. ultimately killing off even the Quahogs which can withstand over 30 days of depleted oxegen. Do you think that a larval bay scallop, which has a very low affinity for anaerobic respiration, would thrive in this environment ? Methinks that we have met the enemy and the enemy is we, with each person contributing a substantial amount of nitrogen to the surrounding environment.