By DON CUDDY
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has selected 13 collaborative projects for $12 million in research intended to help the scallop industry maintain a healthy fishery.
Since 1998, the scallop industry has set aside a portion of its annual catch limit to fund collaborative research with marine scientists. This year, that figure is 3 percent of the total catch, which equates to about $12 million.
The money is awarded by NOAA and distributed as grants to various research institutes. Among federal fisheries, set-aside programs are unique to the Northeast region.
"It's a really great way to get fishermen and scientists working together, learning from each other and coming up with good science that's used for management purposes," said NOAA's Earl Meredith, of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, who has coordinated the program since 2006.
"The number of grants that we are awarding has been expanding," he said. "It used to be just six or seven. Last year, it was 12 and we had 18 applicants this year."
In the past, the money has been used for a variety of projects to help manage the fishery sustainably, including stock assessments in areas where scallop boats fish, bycatch avoidance programs and, most recently, a modified scallop dredge designed to prevent loggerhead turtles from becoming entangled in the fishing gear.
"I attribute all of the progress in the scallop fishery to the research set-aside," said Ron Smolowitz of the nonprofit Coonamessett Farm Foundation in East Falmouth, which led the research into the new turtle gear.
It was a 1996 letter from Smolowitz to the New England Fishery Management Council suggesting an industry set-aside that initially led to the program's foundation.
"It was clear that the National Marine Fisheries surveys weren't accurate enough to give us catch levels for individual access areas," Smolowitz said.