The Northern Gulf of Maine Scallop Area is being fished by small boat fishermen from Maine and a limited access fleet of 60-foot-plus commercial scallop boats. Maine scallop fishermen are concerned that the area will become overfished. PHOTO COURTESY OF TOGUE BRAWN

Scallops: Maine fishermen edged out by commercial boats

BAR HARBOR — Federal authorities closed the scallop fishery in the northern Gulf of Maine on March 23 after just 22 days.

For Maine’s scallop trawlers who fish in the federally regulated Northern Gulf of Maine Scallop Area, the short season is a blow to business.

But as the state’s fishery continues to succeed, it is becoming more popular for commercial trawlers.

Small boat fishermen say the quotas – they are allowed 200 pounds per trip while commercial boats can fish for as many scallops as they want within a set days-at-sea timeframe – are not fair to small boat fishermen.

Small boat fishermen tend to fish in a 40-foot boat towing one 10-foot dredge while the limited access fleet uses 60-foot-plus vessels towing one or two 15-foot dredges.

According to Togue Brawn, owner of the scallop dealership Downeast Dayboat in Portland, the number of commercial boats in the zone has increased sharply over the past few years. At the same time, the fishery is so plentiful, she said, that small boat fishermen can meet their trip quotas this year in no time.

“We had our guys filling their quota in 15 minutes,” said Brawn.

While those trawlers are meeting their quotas in as long as it takes to make breakfast, full-time commercial vessels can fish hundreds of thousands of pounds per trip, which Maine fishermen say is edging them out of the game.

After years of a scarce scallop population, the New England Fisheries Management Council in 2009 imposed strict regulations on fishing in the Northern Gulf of Maine Scallop Area in order for the fishery to recover. The area encompasses the waters east of Boston Harbor.

In 2016, there were five full-time commercial draggers, and this year, there were 49 compared to three full-time small draggers in 2016 and 15 this year. The only fleet that decreased in numbers was the part-time small draggers which went from five boats to three.

“The [Northern Gulf of Maine management area] was meant to be a small boat fishery, and those guys were going to come back [to scallop fishing] when the fishery came back,” Brawn said. “But now there is this loophole to take millions of pounds, and it could wipe out the fishery.”

Last year, said Brawn, a hotbed of scallops off of Cape Ann, Mass., was nearly depleted. Maine scallop fishermen say something must be done to protect the species.

“We should keep [the limited access fleet] out altogether, or they should have to fish by the same rules,” said Brawn. “We should kick them out until there are fair measures in place. Hopefully, by November, the council will have something in place.”

Taylor Bigler Mace

Taylor Bigler Mace

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Taylor covers sports and maritimes for the Islander. As a native of Texas, she is an unapologetic Dallas Cowboys fan. [email protected]
Taylor Bigler Mace

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