How a small change in scallop gear could make a big difference on P.E.I.

Some Island scallop harvesters are adjusting the way they do their work this year, in the hopes that it'll help make the fishery more sustainable.

Goal is to better protect young scallops so they can grow and multiply

Two scallops are shown against a backdrop of the larger rings used to haul them in. Some Island scallop harvesters will be trawling with these larger rings this year, in the hopes of keeping more of the small scallops safe on the ocean floor. (Laura Ramsay/P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association)

Some Island scallop harvesters are adjusting the way they do their work this year, in the hopes that it'll help make the fishery more sustainable. 

The idea is that by increasing the size of the holes, or rings, in the trawler used to fish scallops, only larger ones will be caught, leaving younger ones to grow and multiply.

With this in mind, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has changed the minimum ring size for one of the scallop fishing areas surrounding Prince Edward Island, Zone 22.

Some scallop harvesters say that smaller ring sizes bring in too many small scallops, and that's not good for the sustainability of the fishery. (Laura Ramsay/P.E.I. Fishermen's Association)

The decision comes after a study was conducted in the spring of 2018 — in both New Brunswick and P.E.I. waters — where the regular ring size of 3 ¼ inches (8.255 centimetres) was used alongside a larger ring size of 3 ½ inches (8.89 centimetres). Biologist Monique Niles, with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, helped conduct the research, measuring and counting harvested scallops.

"We found that the larger ring size caught fewer scallops, as expected, it was about 50 to 60 per cent less scallops that were being brought up on board with the larger sized rings," she said.

Increase in efficiency for harvesters

"We also found that there was less rocks and algae, so other things you do not have to sort through, so we found that this was a reduction in sorting time for the fisherman," said Niles.

According to Niles, an added bonus of leaving smaller scallops on the ocean floor is a reduction in stress and mortality, as well as an increase in their reproductive potential.

With bigger rings, the smaller scallops should go out through the rings and not come out on the deck at all, that's what we're hoping.— Richard Gallant, scallop harvester

"I think this is a good initiative, I think it has the potential for real benefits for the future of the fishery," she said.

It was aboard Island scallop harvester Richard Gallant's boat that this research took place last spring — with assistance from the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association. Gallant has been harvesting scallops for more than two decades, and said he's been advocating for changes like these for a while.

'I'd say we are hurting a lot of the scallops'

"I'd say we are hurting a lot of the scallops that we shouldn't be," said Gallant, referring to the smaller ones that die from being brought on board and kept out of water too long, or are crushed by rocks in the process.

"With bigger rings, the smaller scallops should go out through the rings and not come out on the deck at all, that's what we're hoping."

Monique Niles, a biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, measures and counts scallops as part of a 2018 study on adjustments to ring size. (Laura Ramsay/P.E.I. Fishermen's Association )

He said in recent years, he's noticed the scallops he hauls in are smaller — and believes that the larger ring size will mean a more promising future for the scallop fishery on P.E.I., a fishery he said is vital to giving harvesters enough work on the Island to stay here.

"Hopefully down the road it should be a viable fishery," said Gallant.

"I think it's gonna help us out, anything to help the fishery out I think is for the better."

Two other scallop fishing areas that surround the Island, zones 23 and 24, will keep the smaller ring size for now. 

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About the Author

Jessica Doria-Brown

Videojournalist

Jessica Doria-Brown is a videojournalist with CBC in P.E.I. Originally from Toronto, Jessica has worked for CBC in Newfoundland & Labrador, New Brunswick, and Ontario.

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