LOWER TOWNSHIP, N.J. (Press of Atlantic City) — July 10, 2015 — It may be fortunate that nobody has asked Dvora Hart to count the Atlantic sea scallops recently captured by camera images off the New Jersey coast.
Hart, a mathematical biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, knows numbers. She could count that high. The problem: It would take awhile.
“Ten billion is my best guess. It’s probably conservative and it’s very preliminary,” said Hart.
It’s being called one of the biggest scallop sets ever recorded, eclipsing one in 2003 fishermen harvested for years. The estimate of 10 billion is only for the most concentrated area, scallop grounds called the Elephant Trunk just southeast of Cape May covering more than 1,500 square nautical miles. The set actually extends as far north as Long Island and Block Island and as far south as the Delmarva Peninsula. Hart is still working on the overall numbers.
“The big concentration is southern New Jersey, a little north of Cape May, down to Delaware. You start to see them at 35 meters and the highest density is 50 to 60 meters. They drop off at 70 to 80 meters,” said Hart.
NOAA’s underwater camera recorded about 4 million images off the Mid-Atlantic coast earlier this year. Each picture is one square meter of ocean floor and Hart was seeing up to 350 scallops per image. Hart, the chief scallop assessment scientist with NOAA, puts that into perspective.
“Normally we’d see one scallop per square meter, which is actually good recruitment. We had a wide range of more than 100 per square meter and several places where they were on the order of 350 per square meter. This is an extreme event. It’s pretty amazing,” said Hart.
The find is great news for the Port of Cape May, where scallops are still the No. 1 catch but recent East Coast harvest cutbacks, about 20 percent averaged over the last two years, hurt the industry.