Divers baffled by empty scallop shells

Christy Janes christy.janes@pilotnl.ca
Published on August 28, 2014
The only two live scallops three divers found after scouting multiple locations on Aug. 16. The larger scallop is approximately four to five years old and the smaller one is two to three years old.
— Photo courtesy of Pete Stacey

On Aug. 16, Pete Stacey of Appleton and two of his friends went diving for scallops near Change Islands and Fogo Island. What they found left them scratching their heads.

All the scallops they found were tightly closed but empty. Stacey couldn’t believe it and neither could his companions. Stacey has been diving since 1988 and the other divers had more than six years of diving experience between them, yet none of them had ever come across so many empty scallops.

The trio decided to try other popular diving spots for scallops, such as Blackbay Islands, the western end of Indian Islands and Man O’War Cove, but came up empty each time as the beds of scallops they saw were all dead.

“Everything we found that day was sitting on the bottom dead and I really don’t know what caused it,” Stacey said.

As a last-ditch effort to find a live scallop, the divers tried the tickle near Change Islands and found two live scallops.

“The smaller scallop I’d say to be two to three years old and the larger scallop approximately four to five years old,” Stacey said.

He noted that scallops are normally found on a muddy, sandy bottom and they dig down a little in the sand and nestle in, leaving an impression in the sand. Scallops that are alive are open a little bit and  when you get 15 to 20 feet away from them they close up, Stacey explained.

“It’s normal when diving to find a scattered scallop dead, but everything we saw was dead and that was hundreds that day,” he said.

That was their reason for moving to nine different locations throughout the day to ensure it wasn’t isolated to one scallop bed.

Stacey contacted the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Twillingate detachment. Even though he knew it wasn’t an enforcement issue, he felt the need to report the dead scallops to someone.

In a telephone interview, DFO biologist Don Stansbury said as surprised as he was with the number of scallops Stacey and the other divers reported empty, he wouldn’t call it disturbing.

“There are many causes of mortality such as predation, sudden shift in the water column — thermocline — a mass of cold water going right to the bottom,” Stansbury said.

“Those things are kind of natural. In terms of diseases, I couldn’t offer what it could be, but if people wanted to get involved and get samples into us we could get them sent off to our labs in Moncton and they can do some analysis.”

The labs can test for six or seven common diseases that can affect scallops, but Stansbury said that doesn’t always determine the cause of death.

Within the past year a similar scenario occurred in the Bay St. George area when recreational divers noted a high mortality rate among scallops.

With the co-operation of residents,

samples were collected and sent to Moncton for analysis, but no conclusive answers were found,  Stansbury said.

“A lot of concern from the people in the area was about an old exploratory oil well that was dug back 30 years ago and a big rusting pipe, but there was nothing conclusive,” he said.

“What I do know of scallops is they are filter feeders. They filter out plankton and other organic matter and are somewhat resilient to pollutants such as hydrocarbons.”

Stansbury couldn’t comment on the effect, if any, the oil leaked from the sunken paper carrier the Manolis L. had on scallop beds around Change Islands and Fogo Island.

The Pilot