The US Atlantic sea scallop fleet should be able to land 40 million pounds (18,143 metric tons) of scallops during the 2021 fishing year season, according to an announcement Thursday by the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC).

That is about 23 percent lower than the 52 million pound (23,586 metric tons) projection for the 2020 season.

The 40-million-pound projection for 2021, would make the season's catch the lowest since 2015, when 36.9 million pounds (16,737 metric tons) were harvested. From 2016 through 2020, landings have been above the 42 million-pound range.

Janice Plante, public affairs officer for the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) told IntraFish the decrease was not a surprise to the scallop fishery.

She noted the fishery has landed about 36.5 million pounds to date for scallops and that the landing prediction for 2020 was an overestimate.

She pointed out that several years of excellent fishing have been due to scallops coming up in the 2012 and 2013 class years that are now reaching "peak growth potential."

"We are carefully watching new recruitment coming into the fishery," she added, noting that area closures are providing a chance for scallops to grow up and provide better fishing opportunities in the future once they are harvestable.

The council's scallop plan development team is analyzing options for potential 2021 access area trips in the Mid-Atlantic, parts of Closed Area II, and the Nantucket Lightship-South Area.

The sub-areas of Closed Area II have the highest level of projected exploitable biomass for fishing year 2021, according to the council. "Most of the harvestable scallops are part of a large year class of four-year-old animals that are densely concentrated in a relatively small area," the council reported. The scallops are expected to recruit to the fishery in 2021.

The Nantucket Lightship-South Area contains an estimated 27.7 million pounds of densely packed, smaller-size scallops. These scallops are from a 2012 year class that make up around 15 percent of the total exploitable biomass across the entire resource.

"They are slow growers in marginal habitat, but the available biomass easily can support fishing activity in 2021," the council reported.

The committee will also analyze a range of open area days-at-sea from 18 to 26. These allocations will be part of Framework Adjustment 33 to Atlantic Sea Scallop Fishery Management Plan.

A US federal scallop survey was canceled due to complications associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.