April 20, 2017 — A lot of Alaska’s scallops are sick, and scientists are trying to figure out why.
Alaska’s scallop fishery is a small one — in recent years, four boats, with just one operating in Kamishak Bay in Lower Cook Inlet. The rest operate out of Kodiak. Most scallop beds straddle the three-nautical mile line between state and federal management areas and is jointly managed by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The permit system is attached to vessels rather than to individuals, restricting the entire fishery to nine vessels total under the federal system. Together, their 10-year average landing poundage of shucked meats is about 383,000 pounds, for total value of about $4 million, according to a report submitted to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council by the Scallop Plan Team.
But in recent years, the fishermen have had to start tossing a lot back. When they pull them up, a lot show signs of degraded meat with brown spots and a stringy texture and will occasionally slip off the shells at the processor. The condition, called “weak meats,” results in a lot of waste in the scallop fishery, as processors aren’t interested in buying scallops with weak meats.
“Weak meats are a very general term for the adductor muscles … being of a very low quality, very easy to tear,” said Quinn Smith, the Southeast Region fishery management biologist for Fish and Game in a report to the council on April 5. “High prevalence in 2014, 2015 was somewhere on the order of half of all scallops shucked couldn’t be marketed. That was much higher than the fleet had ever seen before.”