The Bay Scallop, Argopecten irradians, Massachusetts Through North Carolina: Its Biology and the History of Its Habitats and Fisheries

MacKenzie, Jr. , Clyde L. (2008) The Bay Scallop, Argopecten irradians, Massachusetts Through North Carolina: Its Biology and the History of Its Habitats and Fisheries. Marine Fisheries Review, 70(3-4), pp. 5-79.

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This article covers the biology and the history of the bay scallop habitats and fishery from Massachusetts to North Carolina. The scallop species that ranges from Massachusetts to New York is Argopecten irradians irradians. In New Jersey, this species grades into A. i. concentricus, which then ranges from Maryland though North Carolina. Bay scallops inhabit broad, shallow bays usually containing eelgrass meadows, an important component in their habitat. Eelgrass appears to be a factor in the production of scallop larvae and also the protection of juveniles, especially, from predation. Bay scallops spawn during the warm months and live for 18–30 months. Only two generations of scallops are present at any time. The abundances of each vary widely among bays and years. Scallops were harvested along with other mollusks on a small scale by Native Americans. During most of the 1800’s, people of European descent gathered them at wading depths or from beaches where storms had washed them ashore. Scallop shells were also and continue to be commonly used in ornaments. Some fishing for bay scallops began in the 1850’s and 1860’s, when the A-frame dredge became available and markets were being developed for the large, white, tasty scallop adductor muscles, and by the 1870’s commercial-scale fishing was underway. This has always been a cold-season fishery: scallops achieve full size by late fall, and the eyes or hearts (adductor muscles) remain preserved in the cold weather while enroute by trains and trucks to city markets. The first boats used were sailing catboats and sloops in New England and New York. To a lesser extent, scallops probably were also harvested by using push nets, picking them up with scoop nets, and anchor-roading. In the 1910’s and 1920’s, the sails on catboats were replaced with gasoline engines. By the mid 1940’s, outboard motors became more available and with them the numbers of fishermen increased. The increases consisted of parttimers who took leaves of 2–4 weeks from their regular jobs to earn extra money. In the years when scallops were abundant on local beds, the fishery employed as many as 10–50% of the towns’ workforces for a month or two. As scallops are a higher-priced commodity, the fishery could bring a substantial amount of money into the local economies. Massachusetts was the leading state in scallop landings. In the early 1980’s, its annual landings averaged about 190,000 bu/yr, while New York and North Carolina each landed about 45,000 bu/yr. Landings in the other states in earlier years were much smaller than in these three states. Bay scallop landings from Massachusetts to New York have fallen sharply since 1985, when a picoplankton, termed “brown tide,” bloomed densely and killed most scallops as well as extensive meadows of eelgrass. The landings have remained low, large meadows of eelgrass have declined in size, apparently the species of phytoplankton the scallops use as food has changed in composition and in seasonal abundance, and the abundances of predators have increased. The North Carolina landings have fallen since cownose rays, Rhinoptera bonsais, became abundant and consumed most scallops every year before the fishermen could harvest them. The only areas where the scallop fishery remains consistently viable, though smaller by 60–70%, are Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Mass., and inside the coastal inlets in southwestern Long Island, N.Y.

Item Type: Article
Title: The Bay Scallop, Argopecten irradians, Massachusetts Through North Carolina: Its Biology and the History of Its Habitats and Fisheries
Personal Creator/Author:
MacKenzie, Jr. , Clyde L.
Refereed: Yes
Journal or Publication Title: Marine Fisheries Review
Volume: 70
Number: 3-4
Page Range: pp. 5-79
Date: 2008
ISSN: 0090-1830
Issuing Agency: United States National Marine Fisheries Service
Subjects: Fisheries
Item ID: 9696
Depositing User: Patti M. Marraro
Date Deposited: 14 Aug 2012 16:45
Last Modified: 14 Aug 2012 16:45

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