MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — Scallop season remains in full swing until the end of March for much of the waters of Maine. Despite a recent area closure affecting the Casco Passage and western Toothacher Bay in Swan’s Island, imposed by Department of Resources, both draggers and divers from Mount Desert Island have caught a fair share.
In 2019, scallopers harvested 3.5 million pounds of scallops statewide bringing in more than $4.3 million.
Diver Ed Monat of Bar Harbor has been swimming along the freezing cold ocean floor to harvest scallops.
“There’s been a moratorium on scallop licenses for so long, and there are not a whole lot of divers scalloping,” he said.
The fishermen that drag for scallops are going Monday through Thursday, whereas for divers it changes from month to month. This month, they can fish on Fridays and Saturdays. Monat has been doing half–hour dives to mine shallow waterbeds for the shellfish.
When asked about the catch, Monat said it’s been hit or miss.
“I’ve gone harbor to harbor, places I’ve never been before to find them [scallops] … sometimes I find them and sometimes I don’t,” he said. Before the recently implemented closures, Monat went diving in Swan’s Island, Frenchman Bay and Bass Harbor, as well as other areas around MDI this season.
Monat said that lately scallops have been swimming in waters that are farther away from his reach as a diver. Monat said boats that have traditionally never found scallops in certain areas have now been finding even more scallops than expected in those areas.
“To look for scallops, I did travel away from MDI as far as Belfast to the west and Lubec to the east,” he said.
Southwest Harbor fisherman “Sparky” Allen Walls agrees with Monat that scallops have been swimming in deeper waters.
“We’re told where to go, when to do it and how many to get … right now, it’s three buckets,” he said.
Though it now takes his crew around 30 bushels to fill three buckets, he said it used to take his crew around 25 bushels.
“We did find some big ones in deep water that only took 25 bushels, but they’re getting old; they were just found this year and three years from now they will be all dead,” he said.
“They’re gonna have to redress this whole situation … everyone around here knows that Casco Passage by the Swan’s Island Ferry Terminal was an emergency closure because some people were gonna stay there and beat it to death,” said Walls. Last week, regulators from Maine’s Department of Marine Resources implemented the emergency conservation closure at Casco Passage within the Swan’s Island rotational area as an attempt to prohibit further reduction of the legal spawning stock that remains in the area. The area was also closed to protect the sublegal and seed scallops from any additional incidental mortality.
“I’m not the scientist, but the plan [for the closures] was to have everything come back,” said Walls.
Years ago, Walls says he remembers 40 or 50 boats from out of state, an entire horseshoe, scalloping alongside Duck Island, a lucrative area for scallops near Swan’s Island.
“I’m not sure how many drags pounded the bottom there, but on the third or fourth day they’d haul back and you could smell that everything was dead…that place never came back,” he said. In recent years, Walls has not seen many out-of-staters in the MDI area.
Since 2012, scallops from Maine have been worth over $10 per pound at the docks. “It costs too much to go and the only reason we do it for three buckets is the price has to stay up, but for three buckets it’s quite an effort we put in…in my opinion,” said Walls.
Even with the pandemic’s recent impact on the restaurant industry, scallops have maintained their value with local buyers.
Northeast Harbor used to be plugged with boats scalloping from Jonesport to Portland, which is what Walls believes ruined scalloping for local fishermen. “So, then they started making the laws for different sized drags,” he said. Walls spent $6,500 on a drag that he put together with his crew last February. “I’ve only used it a month and a half this season; we’ve already had to redo the rakes, links, chains, everything,” he said.
“All the old guys that have been scalloping know exactly where they [scallops] are and what’s left, so all the boats show up and it’s the same old thing … I’m one of the only ones still doing it,” said Walls.
Like Monat, he explained because of the moratorium, licenses aren’t being issued to new fishermen anymore. Walls said the licenses can’t be transferred to family members either.
“If I retire, I can’t give it to my boy,” he said.
The latest scallop limitations and area closures will make fishing locally a battle for Walls.
“I’d rather stay here till March then go down to do a federal thing, totally different from the state,” he said.
Due to the recent fishery implementations, Walls now feels inclined to reconsider his fishing plans for the season.
“But I now plan on moving out soon,” he said.