ELLSWORTH — The Maine scallop fishing season opened Monday. At a meeting in Newport, R.I., earlier this month, the New England Fishery Management Council gave Maine fishermen with both state and federal scallop fishing permits some good news.
“It really is,” said Trisha Cheney, scallop resource coordinator for the Department of Marine Resources.
Under the council’s scallop fishery management plan, Maine harvesters with federal scallop permits were not allowed to fish in state waters once the total allowable catch (TAC) for the northern Gulf of Maine – an area that stretches roughly from Boston to the Canadian border – was landed. The limit for the area is 70,000 pounds.
Maine manages the scallop fishery using a planned 70-day season that begins on Dec. 1. It imposes a daily landings limit of 15 gallons of scallop meats – 10 gallons in Cobscook Bay. The Department of Maine Resources (DMR) is likely to shorten the season to protect the scallop resource from overfishing.
The federal scallop fishery goes on year-round and is managed through a system of individual catch quotas and by limiting the number of “days at sea” when a harvester is allowed to fish for scallops. For many small-boat fishermen based in Maine, the federal quotas are too small to make participation in the fishery economically viable without being also allowed to fish inside state waters.
This year, however, the council voted to allow scallopers with both federal and state permits to fish in state waters even after the federal TAC was filled. That’s good news for the handful of Maine fishermen who will benefit from the change.
According to Cheney, about 30 fishermen have both state and federal permits, although the exact number is difficult to determine.
“Some of those permits are pooled or stacked” with federal permits for other species, Cheney said, and may not be actively fished.
In all, she said, “about a dozen guys” from Maine fish under federal scallop permits.
While fishermen and regulators are gearing up for the beginning of the season next week, they still had time to gather in Ellsworth last Wednesday evening to discuss a few last-minute details, particularly how the daily landings limit is determined.
With the limit measured in gallons rather than pounds, Officer Brent Chasse demonstrated how fully a 5-gallon bucket may be filled to comply with the rules – no higher than 1 inch below the rim, Cheney said.
DMR is in the midst of designing a formal fishery management plan for scallops, and fishermen and regulators also spent some time Wednesday evening talking about “where (they) want the fishery to be 10 years from now,” Cheney said. Among the issues raised were the possibility of limiting entry to the fishery, the transferability of licenses and whether to require a boat’s licensed owner to be aboard the boat while scalloping is taking place.