Many fishermen believe Stokesbury saved the scallop industry

Well, I guess that I had better start writing some of this stuff down, as it seems that my memory is getting fuzzier by the day. Not an uncommon affliction for an old fisherman, who has been put ashore, but who still has enough recall to remember some things that are just too important to allow to fade into obscurity!

I had been a scalloper out of New Bedford for 32 years, both as a deckhand, and as a captain of several high-line scalloper vessels. Over all those years there were several trips that stay relatively fresh in my mind’s eye, but one of the most important and fulfilling ones actually occurred after I came ashore.

At the time, I was serving as the Massachusetts obligatory member on the New England Fishery Management Council, and the only scalloper on the Scallop Committee. I had an opportunity to join Kevin Stokesbury, who at the time, was a relatively new professor at the School for Marine Science & Technology (SMAST), on one of his first scallop video surveys aboard the scallop vessel Friendship. At the time, the captain of the Friendship was Captain Gabe Miranda, an old friend, and former shipmate.

Kevin had come up with this new concept of using a video camera to take videos of the ocean bottom, and then go back to SMAST and count the scallops? What?

What good would that do?

What would you do with it once you count them?

To tell you the truth, it was an amazing feat just to convince the local scallop industry to take part in something so far ahead of itself that many, myself included, didn’t think it could be done. Some of the previous underwater videos that I had seen were unable to do anything approaching Kevin’s concept. I remember telling him so, but he felt that the newer digital video equipment was much more capable than the old analog film cameras had been.

Kevin was right! He was able to “show” everyone that the resource had in fact rebounded as most of the scallop captains had been claiming. As far as I know, it was the first time that we, or anyone for that matter, could actually “see” and count the scallops!

It was no longer having to solely use a number of random stratified scallop tows, which at the time were made utilizing the National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) ship, the “Albatross IV,” as the basis of the scallop survey to try and use their catch information to extrapolate the amount of the scallop resource. You see, it’s not just a “simple” matter as videotaping, and counting the scallops on the seabed, it’s a bit more complicated than just that. Now you need to try, and determine how much those scallops will produce or yield as pounds of scallop meats!

Because scallops are managed by meat weight, not the number of animals, and not the weight of the entire animal, but whatever the scallop muscle (scallop meat) within that scallop will yield.

Now, here is where it gets a bit complicated … scallop meat weights and size vary according to a variety of conditions such as; age, scallop shell size, location, densities, water temps, water depths, food sources, seasonal timing and probably more than a few other issues. However, probably the most important factor is the spawning stage which the scallop is entering or finishing, as the scallop loses a lot of its meat weight (up to one third) when it devotes much of its energy to spawning. Again, this is subject to those changes previously mentioned. Early on, in his survey work, there were many challenges thrown at Kevin, which he always managed to answer completely and scientifically to satisfy even his most ardent challenger. One example was that while he was attempting to measure the scallops that they had on video, it was claimed that their measurements wouldn’t, or couldn’t be accurate, as the diffusion caused by the saltwater between the camera lens, and the scallop, would distort and affect the apparent measurement of the actual size of the scallop.

While this is true, Kevin and company had already taken that into consideration, when they calibrated the camera(s) in the saltwater test tank at the School for Marine Science & Technology (SMAST), and made the necessary corrections for that. This wasn’t film or movie making, this was nascent cutting edge science at its best!

There is much more to this story, than can be simply told here, but there can be no denying that Kevin and SMAST’s video survey work allowed us to enter into a new world of oceanographic science! Scallop fishermen had already started to see a resurgence of scallops, and some cooperative surveys were done that proved that fact, but that in itself is not and would not be enough.

Along with Dr. Brian Rothschild, Bobby Bruno and others, I too was a speaker at the fishery meeting at the Skipper in Fairhaven that Secretary Daley attended. He did in fact state that he was very impressed with this new science, and I have “no doubt” that his influence played a big part in getting SMAST’s work accepted as part of the annual scallop biomass survey, and allocation process!
While NOAA may admin-ister the “Research Set Aside Program,” the funds are actually derived from a set-aside from their total annual allocation of the scallop resource. This setaside is harvested by selected scallop fishermen, and is used to fund much of the scallop science that has been going since the late 90s and early 2,000.

Dr. Kevin Stokesbury never has, and never would claim to be the savior of the scallop industry, but looking back on those early bleak days of fishery and scallop management, I know that I myself, and a whole lot of other fishermen would!


Now, he’s on his way in trying to do the same for the groundfish industry, with his openended codend net survey!
I think that a lot of us would like to offer our thanks to not only Kevin, and his dedicated crew, but to Dr. Brian Rothschild, SMAST, and UMass Dartmouth. “We owe them no less!”

Jim Kendall is the executive director of New Bedford Seafood Consulting.