AUGUSTA — A bill that would expand the number of harvesters eligible for commercial scallop licenses and would make other regulatory changes is scheduled for a public hearing before the legislature’s Marine Resources committee Wednesday.
The scallop fishery is enjoying a boom year, with landings up and very high prices. This follows several years of improved catches.
LD 908, “An Act to Promote Sustainability in the Scallop Fishing Industry,” was sponsored by Representative Robert Alley of Beals. Under current rules, the only way to get a 2015 scallop license is to have held one in 2014. The bill would expand eligibility to any applicants who have previously held a scallop license in any year.
The limited-entry system for licenses was put into effect in 2009. “The scallop fishery had been passively managed for years,” said Togue Brown, former resource management coordinator for the state Department of Marine Resources (DMR), now of Maine Dayboat Scallops in Bath. “It was overfished and ground down to nothing.”
The limited-entry system in place now was designed, she said, “to reduce how much each active participant would have to cut back.”
Now, after several years of aggressive conservation measures, the resource does seem to be doing better. “The question is, how are we going to manage it now that it’s regrown?” If the conservation measures were all lifted, Brown said, “it would be a gold rush, one amazing year, then it’s going to be crap.”
“At some point, we do need to open this up to new entrants. Now is not the time to do it, and if we do do it, we need to leave it to the DMR rulemaking. They’re far more equipped to handle extensive public meetings needed to do this right,” she said. More than 100 meetings about scallop rules have been held around the state by the DMR in the seven years since more active management began.
With the strong market, younger harvesters would like to get into the fishery. They’re excluded under both the current rules and the proposed bill.
Last year, the DMR issued 482 dragger licenses and 26 diver licenses. Under the proposal in this bill, roughly 1000 licenses could be added, representing a large potential increase in fishing effort.
Other provisions in LD 908 include a 90-pound per day harvesting limit on scallops except those harvested through aquaculture (the current limit is 135 pounds, enforced as 10 gallons) and imposes a maximum width of 5 feet, 6 inches for scallop drags.