Saving Scallops

Due to warming waters, Scallops have struggled to exist in North Carolina’s bays and estuaries. However, thanks to a new research study at the University of North Carolina, Scallops may have a new lease on life.


Due to warming waters, scallops have struggled to exist in North Carolina's bays and estuaries.

However, thanks to a new research study at the University of North Carolina, scallops may have a new lease on life.

Here's the story.

Found a live, adult wild scallop.

They get to be a bit larger than this.

I would say he's what we could call a teenager or a juvenile scallop.

But sad to say, this is a pretty lonely teenage bay scallop.

To find out why, dive down to the sandy seagrass beds at the bottom of North Carolina's bays and estuaries.

They have a very neat life history where they're in the water as a larva for a month or so, and in that time, they have a little shell, just like an adult scallop.

They eventually find the cues that mean seagrass is probably in the area.

They float down towards the bottom, or swim down towards the bottom, and they use something called byssal threads, a little line that they can attach to individual seagrass blades.

So they hang on the seagrass blades until they grow to a size that's safer, and then they drop to the bottom and just live laying on the bottom in the seagrass meadow.

Those seagrass beds were filled with bay scallops in the 1920s.

North Carolina topped the nation with 1.4 million pounds harvested, but a red ride in the 1980s decimated the population.

Overfishing, natural predation and a decline in seagrass caused by rising water temperatures and lower water quality all combined to put the species at risk.

Since then, bay scallops have not recovered, and the fishery has been officially closed since 2006.

So they can flap their shells together in order to propel themselves through the water, and that's how they swim.

Thirteen sixty-seven is 8.81.

Twelve eighty-nine is 8.6.

But now, the bay scallop is getting some love.

One-four-five-three was 8.32.

All species are important to the biodiversity of our ecosystem.

These guys, I would say the most important function that they serve as a prey item for other important species.

However, they also perform filtering functions similar to oysters.

Our estuaries are increasingly becoming more and more sedimented, filled with nutrients, and these guys are one of the critters available to filter out some of those nutrients that are becoming harmful and detrimental to the ecosystem.

Thirteen-oh-three is 5.85.

In a unique research project requiring a lot of patience and utilizing a drop of glue, fishing line, metal frame and living bay scallops, scientists are tethering more than 1,600 scallops to mark steel frames.

So the aim of this research is to discern why bay scallops have not recovered.

We have a few hypotheses as to why that has occurred, and we also want to look into what would be the best landscape of artificial seagrass, or in the future, natural seagrass to focus our efforts on for the restoration of bay scallops.

The living scallops are tethered because they can swim through the water.

The frames and tiny scallops are then placed in nine artificial seagrass beds on Oscar Shoal.

That's just off Beaufort.

The beds vary in size and thickness.

Bay scallops were once abundant in the area.

And if there's sun, you can see the outlines, and really, you navigate by breaks kind of where there are spaces between the mats, but as I said today, it's kind of... You have no choice but to dive down and put your face right up against it and try to navigate that way.

We are tethering bay scallops in order to come back day after day and follow the fate of that same scallop through time.

Each time we revisit the scallop, we will record whether it is present or absent, meaning whether it has survived its night or it has been eaten by a predator potentially, and after a few days to a week, we can come back and we can measure that same individual, and calculate a growth rate.

Survival and growth are both important factors that we need to consider for scallop restoration.

Researchers expect to find survival and growth rates will differ between seagrass landscapes.

Once researchers determine which bed has the best survival rate, more than 10,000 scallops will be scattered throughout the natural and artificial seagrass beds to see where they prefer to locate themselves without human intervention.

And it's a species that we would love to understand what makes it tick and to be able to tweak the system, if possible, in a way that helps scallops, or to understand where to try to restore scallops.

Could we pick the meadows if we were going to put out hatchery-raised little baby scallops?

Where is their best chance of surviving to become spawners themselves?