Maine’s scallop fishermen and state regulators have been working for years to rebuild the nation’s largest inshore sea scallop fishery. This week federal regulators gave them a boost.

The New England Fishery Management Council on Thursday approved a measure that would allow scallop draggers licensed to operate in federal waters in the Gulf of Maine to also take part in Maine’s winter scallop season in state waters – even after the total allowable catch limit is reached in federal waters.

“It’s a small victory for Maine scallop fishermen,” said Togue Brawn, who owns a Portland business that buys scallops from Maine’s small-boat fleet.

Maine’s fishery is a 70-day season that starts on Dec. 1 and ends in April or whenever fishery mangers decide it needs to be closed to protect the stock. Fishermen have daily catch limits.

The federal fishery, by contrast, has a year-round season and is managed by a system of individual catch quotas and limits on the number of days fishing boats are allowed at sea.

Made of two districts, the federal fishery has a small northern district between the Canadian border and Boston, and a huge southern district that includes the Georges Bank and in offshore waters in the Mid-Atlantic. The northern district has an annual catch limit of just 70,000 pounds. The southern district, which is dominated by large boats from New Bedford, Massachusetts, that go to sea for days at a time, yields about 50 million pounds of scallops annually and accounts for roughly 99 percent of the nation’s scallop catch.


The council vote on Thursday applies to fishermen like Wallace Gray, 55 of Stonington, who has a federal permit to fish in the northern section of the Gulf of Maine. Because of the council action, he said, he’ll be able to fish state waters even when fishing is closed in federal waters.

“You can fish in your own backyard and don’t have to get penalized for having a federal permit,” said Gray, who has been dragging for scallops for 19 years.

The scallop fishery in Maine state waters has been seeing annual increases both in catch and value. About 400 Maine boats fished in last year’s season, a dramatic increase because of the rebound of inshore scallop stocks. Scallops are most abundant in the state waters off Hancock and Washington counties.

Maine scallop draggers in 2013 landed 3.5 million pounds of whole sea scallops, valued at $5.2 million. That contrasts with 2005 when fishermen in Maine landed 275,000 pounds of scallops valued at $272,000.

The price fishermen get for scallops also has increased, from $8.23 per pound in 2005 to $12.24 in 2013.

More than 100 fishermen have permits to fish in federal waters in a designated area between Boston and the Canadian border, and roughly 40 of these fishermen are from Maine.


The council on Thursday voted unanimously to allow states to request exemptions to allow fishermen to participate in state water fisheries even after the 70,000-pound quota in the northern federal district is reached. Maine fishery managers plan to request an exemption.

The resurgence of Maine’s scallop fishery comes at a time when Maine’s groundfishermen are facing some of the harshest restrictions they have ever seen.

The New England Fishery Management Council this week approved catch limits that amount to a 75 percent reduction from this year – which is already 77 percent lower than then 2013 fishing season. That means the catch limit for Gulf of Maine cod will go from 6,700 metric tons in 2012 to 386 in 2015.

The council established rolling closures along the cost that will be off limits to all groundfishing gear. In addition, recreational fishermen would not be allowed to possess cod in these areas.

On Friday, the council released three maps showing the closed areas.

In May, coastal waters between Boston and Scarborough would be closed. In June, the closed area would stretch from Rye Beach in New Hampshire to Port Clyde. In November, December and January, the closed area would be primarily Cape Cod Bay. A map of the closures is available with this story at

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will have the final say on the closures.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.