Sustainable is becoming a word on the minds of many as we start to look at the impact we have on the world around us. While sustainable consumption is a relatively new goal in society, it's been a part of fishing and fisheries management since the beginning. How fisheries are managed has changed over time with advancement in technology and science, but the goal has always been to ensure that we have the ability to access seafood for generation after generation. We can't be fishermen, if there are no fish.
The Swimming Scallop fishery is a fantastic example of a well managed and sustainable fishery. The fishery was developed as a New and Emerging Fishery with fisherman and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) working together to ensure we had a long lasting, sustainable, and economical fishery. One of the tools used to manage this fishery is a biological based biomass - what does that mean? Keep reading and I'll explain.
With every fishery on this coast, data is collected that is used to guide decisions on when, how, where and how much a fishermen can catch. The way data is collected looks different for each fishery based on the fishing methods, management controls, and the biology of the species being targeted.
For swimming scallops, the main management method is controlling the "where" and "how much". "How much" is also known as a quota, which is the number of fish (or in this case scallops) that can be caught in a season. Rather than the quota being given per license (each license allows a fisherman to catch a specific number of fish), the quota is defined for each fishing area (also known as a bed). In this case, it doesn't matter who fishes the scallops, once the quota has been reached, no one is permitted to fish from the area.
There were multiple beds that were developed (through various scientific surveys and studies) during the early years of the fishery. In order to fish one of these beds, we need to conduct a biomass survey. These surveys provide a glimpse into the health of the scallop bed and provides DFO the information they need to determine a quota.
To conduct a survey, Joel and I head out with a biologist and one crew member for a total of four people on board (the maximum we can fit on our vessel). The surveys are done by fishing along transects throughout the bed. Transects are a common way of sampling a large area and look something like this:
Transects are where you collect samples along a straight line running from one end of an area to the other. They are a set distance apart and you sample from either the whole line or at specific intervals along the line.
Transects on a scallop bed look a little different. Rather than following a straight line, we follow a depth. We also do several "sets" of transects along the length of the bed to sample sections of the area. I added red lines to this bathymetry chart to give you an idea of what that looks like.
Each bed has a specific number of transects we can do based on how big the area is. Some beds are small and we can only do about 7 transects, and some beds are big and require 40+ transects to properly sample the whole area.
We lower the trawl down at one end of the transect and fish to the other end. The biologist records a track of the path we took, time, depth, and speed. At the end of each transect, the catch is weighed and a random bucket is selected. The scallops from this bucket are scrubbed clean and reweighed without all the sponge, barnacles and sand worms that live on the outside of their shell. This also allows us to count the number of each species (pink or spiny). These scallops are then put through our sorter which separates the legal and the undersized. Because our sorter is set at a size larger than legal, the undersized scallops are measured against a block to ensure the legal sized scallops are counted properly.
Finally a small sample is collected from each bed to be sent to a lab. The lab will weigh each individual scallop, identify them to gender, species and age them. Aside from the small lab sample, all scallops are returned to the bed. Any by-catch (not scallops) are also recorded and usually include species like urchins, sea cucumbers, rat fish. Most of the time, we don't have any bycatch. But when we do, it's only a couple species and they are always returned unharmed both during surveys and while fishing.
All this data is used to determine how many scallops are available to fish. The fishermen are given a quota for each bed. The quota represents approximately 4% of what is available, meaning we leave 96% of the population untouched. Its also important to note that sidecasted (thrown back scallops) have a 97-98% survival rate.
Biomass surveys are only valid for two years.
Normally the cost of fishing surveys are spread out between all fishermen that have a licence. BUT, there are only two fishermen fishing scallops so it ends of being very expensive for us.
We choose our fishing areas based on the tide and weather. Some beds are out in the open and can only be fished on the calmest of days.
Even though this fishery is a relatively new fishery in BC, our family has been fishing these beds for over 20 years. Joel and I are very proud to be continuing the fishery.