April 24, 2017 — In the 1920s, the bay scallop fishery in Virginia was booming, hitting a peak harvest in 1929.
Then, in the course of a few short years, the bottom fell out of the fishery — almost literally.
A hemisphere-wide wasting disease began attacking eelgrass, a primary habitat for young scallops growing in high-salinity coastal bays. As a result, Virginia’s scallop harvest dropped in 1930. It dropped even more in 1931and even more in 1932.
Then, calamity struck in 1933 when a Category 1 hurricane slammed the state, wiping out what was left of ailing eelgrass beds in the coastal bays.
That year, Virginia watermen harvested no bay scallops at all. The species was wiped out in the state.
“The bay scallop was extinct locally,” said Mark Luckenbach, ecologist and associate dean of research and advisory services at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point. “Not reduced in numbers like oysters or eelgrass — it was extinct. The closest populations were in North Carolina to the south and New Jersey to the north.”