ELLSWORTH — Like Maine scallops but don’t want to pay $19 a pound or more? Feeling lucky? Come winter, maybe you can go catch your own.
This week, the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) announced the final terms for two newly established lotteries for scallop fishing licenses. One lottery is for dragger licenses, the other for diver licenses. The catch, though, is that nobody knows for sure how many licenses, if any, will be available each year.
DMR has been working for more than a year on a plan to bring new entrants into the scallop fishery. The lotteries announced this week are the culmination of extensive discussions last year among members of DMR’s Scallop Advisory Council with considerable input, often heated, from industry members. Those discussions were followed by public hearings in Augusta, Machias and Ellsworth on one lottery proposal and then by considerable tinkering by the Legislature after those hearings ended.
The end result is a pair of lotteries open to Maine residents at least 18 years old who hold a Maine commercial fishing license or have crewed on “an active commercial scallop vessel,” haven’t had a Maine commercial fishing license suspended within the past seven years and are not already licensed.
Just who would qualify for the lottery was fraught with controversy. Even more contentious was whether any lottery entrants would qualify for extra chances, or weighting factors, to increase their likelihood of success.
In DMR’s initial proposal, applicants would get extra chances in the lottery based on several factors related to time spent in the fishery as crew, or before the license moratorium imposed in 2009, participation in “collaborative research programs” or having a particular license to fish for scallops outside of the three-mile limit in federal waters.
The extra chances were unpopular with fishermen, and DMR proposed a different set of weighting criteria in a draft of the lottery rule submitted to the Legislature for its approval last winter. Although the revised rule got rid of the research and federal fisheries factors as a basis for extra draws in the lotteries, the Legislature wasn’t satisfied. It determined that DMR should eliminate all those factors and give participants an extra chance for each year they entered the lottery but didn’t win a license.
The question remains, though, just how many licenses will be issued via the lottery.
Members of the scallop industry agree that their fishery is growing grayer every year and that there needs to be a way to bring younger participants into it. But as the rule worked its way through the advisory council and public hearing process it was clear that fishermen objected to increasing participation in the scallop fishery while DMR still imposed strict daily limits on the amount of scallops that can be harvested. The department also frequently closes the nominal 70-day fishing season early to prevent overfishing.
The new rule doesn’t increase the number of scallop drag or dive licenses that may be issued. Instead, it establishes a method for determining who will receive a new license when an existing license is surrendered. The number of new licenses that become available in each year will be based on a 1-1 “exit ratio,” one new license for each license surrendered. No licenses surrendered, no new licenses issued.
The rule also provides that DMR will consult with the Scallop Advisory Council at least every two years to consider whether the exit ratio, or any other part of the lottery system, should be adjusted.