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Biologists Experiment With Scallops in S.D. Bay

June 15, 1985|LORENA OROPEZA | Times Staff Writer

Marine biologists are studying scallops in San Diego Bay and Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad to determine if the tasty mollusks should be fair catch for sport fishermen, who have been prohibited from gathering them since 1954.

On April 1 about 7,800 scallops were moved from the lagoon to the bay to see if they could repopulate the bay, where they have been missing for years, said John M. Duffy, who heads the study for the state Fish and Game Department.

"The plan was to move them before spawning and so help repopulate the bay," he said. Duffy said the spawning cycle should be complete in six to eight weeks.

Scientists observing scallops in Agua Hedionda Lagoon for about a year have determined they are a "fast-growing, short-lived species," Duffy said. These characteristics may help sport fishermen regain the right to gather the shellfish, he said.

A state law was passed in 1954 after shrinking scallop populations were noticed by the Fish and Game Department, Duffy said.

Although marine biologists may recommend that the law be changed to allow some limited sport fishing for scallops, Duffy said, he doubts a new law would allow commercial fisherman to gather scallops.

"The scallops in restaurants all come from the East Coast. They landed about 40 million pounds of scallops on the East Coast last year. The areas where our scallops live are far too small to produce the poundage we need," he said.

Commercial fishery of scallops depends on the success of aquaculture, or underwater farming, he said. At the time scallops were moved to San Diego Bay, Duffy said, about 200 were sent to a laboratory south of Monterey, where marine biologists are studying the effects of aquaculture on scallops.

The scallops in the laboratory have been spawning, said Arthur W. Haseltine, a marine biologist at the Marine Culture Laboratory. When the shellfish reach 5 to 10 millimeters in length, they will be planted in bays along the coast of Southern California and in Monterrey to try to increase the population, he said.

"If we can prove scallops cultured in the laboratory (until they reach) seed size can be successfully transplanted in bays, an entrepreneur could lease ocean bottom from the state and commercially farm scallops," Duffy said.

Haseltine estimated that there could be commercial aquaculture of scallops in five to 10 years.

Scallops grown in a laboratory until they are the size of seeds are protected during the most critical stage of their development, Haseltine said. A person leasing ocean-bottom land would be able to plant a new batch of seed-size scallops every year, he said.

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