Maine regulators want to shut down several waterways to scallop fishing in the upcoming season as they continue attempts to rebuild the fishery.
The news comes as Maine’s Department of Marine Resources is warning fishermen that the coming season will likely include emergency closures depending on the amount of scallops harvested. The season runs from December to April.
State officials are considering a plan released this week that would shut down Eastern Casco Bay, Damariscotta River, Ocean Point and Lower Muscle Ridge. Another area, Muscle Ridge, would be open twice a week. Municipal mooring fields in Blue Hill Harbor, Western Blue Hill Bay, Bartlett’s Harbor, Seal Harbor, Northeast Harbor and Somes Sound Harbor would also be shut down for scallop dragger boats, officials said.
The regulations are designed to “rebuild the scallop resource” while giving scalloping fishermen a chance to fish, said Trisha DeGraaf, a coordinator with the marine resources department.
Maine’s scallop catch typically exceeded a million pounds of meat from the late 1970s to the mid-’90s, but then declined dramatically, spurring new state regulations. The fishery bottomed out at 33,141 pounds in the 2005 calendar year before starting to recover. Fishermen caught 424,547 pounds in 2013 – the highest mark since 2000.
Increased participation in the fishery has added pressure, as the number of harvesters more than tripled to 421 between 2008 and 2013, state officials said. James Ackley, a scallop fisherman out of Machias, said he hopes the new rules will thin the number of boats in the fishery.
“It’s going to be crowded, anyway,” Ackley said. “I’m hoping there’s not that 400-something boats in the fishery.”
The 2014-15 proposal maintains the number of fishing days from last season – a 70-day season in zones one and two, which cover most of the coast, and a 50-day season in zone three, around scallop-rich Cobscook Bay. However, Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said he anticipates having to cut days if scallops become too heavily depleted during the season.
The department originally proposed to cut 22 days in zones one and two and 18 days in zone 3. The amount of meat scallop fishermen would be allowed to take per day is proposed to stay the same.
The state will hold three public hearings on the proposed rules in September before Keliher presents a final proposal to an advisory council in the fall. The council will then advise the commissioner, who will make a final ruling on the coming season.