State amends scallop season closures

Posted Jan. 26, 2009, at 9:35 p.m.

CALAIS, Maine — The Department of Marine Resources on Monday reversed a decision announced last Thursday to close the second half of the scallop fishing season and will keep some areas open while closing others.

Fishermen were scrambling Monday to see how the changes will affect them and their fishing grounds.

The first half of the scallop-fishing season ran from Dec. 1 to Jan. 4 and was scheduled to resume Feb. 25 and run through March 31. But the DMR announced last week that the season was over, blaming the closure on a declining scallop population. The DMR already had cut the season to 70 days, down from 132 days last year.

DMR officials said Monday that reopening portions of the resource was an effort to reach “middle ground” and to address some of the concerns raised over last week’s announcement.

Now scallop fishermen can go back to work in some areas.

“I guess that is something,” Mary & Donna boat owner Mike Keating of Owls Head said Monday when he learned that some areas would remain open. “At least that does leave some fishable ground, or at least it leaves some places to look.”

The change, Keating added, would allow fishermen to recoup some of their investment in their gear. “It does take into consideration that people need to make money,” he said. The first half of the scalloping season was not productive because of bad fishing weather in December.

Southwest Harbor scallop harvester Andy Mays, a member of the Scallop Advisory Council, agreed Monday that the reversal would give people an opportunity to work while figuring out what to do about the future. “Harvesters realize there is a problem. They want the fishery back, but they are trying to balance being able to eat,” he said.

The revised plan is not new.

“There are 11 areas — six would be closed and five would be open,” DMR Deputy Commissioner David Etnier said Monday.

The six closed areas are the same ones that were proposed for closure last year during meetings with industry people, with the addition of closing the nearshore waters east of Western Head including Cobscook Bay, DMR spokeswoman Togue Brawn said Monday.

The abrupt closure announcement last week was a reflection of what is happening in the industry, DMR officials indicated. Scallop landings have declined from a peak of nearly 4 million pounds in 1980-81 to less than 500,000 pounds each year since 2001, a DMR fact sheet said.

Etnier explained that the agency had closed the entire fishery for the season because it did not believe it had emergency powers to do anything but that.

On Monday, however, the department learned from state lawyers that it could implement spot closures.

“Given the information we have on the state of the resource overall and the effectiveness of some area closures like this, it would be justified to proceed in this manner,” Etnier said.

He also said the outcry from fishermen was heard by the agency.

“Given the amount of concern that had been raised by folks just since Thursday that a number of people had made significant investments [in gear] and they were banking to some degree on having some opportunity to go in the month of March, we felt going back to this and adding in Cobscook, given what we observed in Cobscook, that this was a reasonable attempt to address the concerns that have been raised in the last few days but at the same time provide significant protection for the scallop resource on the coast,” Etnier said.

The change is in effect for only the second part of the season that ends in March.

The DMR said Monday in its e-mail to industry officials and the media that it wants to reopen the scallop fishery in December, but only if it has been able to institute scallop management areas and substantial rotational closures.

“We are going to be working with the Scallop Advisory Council and other fishermen to come up with and implement area management,” Brawn said. “So the first step will be to come up with areas that make sense for the management of scallops and then within those areas determine what areas should be closed.”

Etnier said, “Folks will still have to come to the table to decide on what management areas everyone does want for the coast of Maine. I assume it is not necessarily these 11, but whatever the configuration is and then the closures within them and the development of the area management protocols from there on. This is sort of an interim measure that we feel addresses the concerns but still gives the resource relief.”

“I think this will give people, if they don’t have any options, it will get them through so they can plan for next year,” harvester Mays said. “It also is what the department and what the harvesters want, to some extent, the rotational closures.”

Fisherman Keating agreed. He said the midseason decision was hard on the fishermen and he did not want to see a similar decision next year. “If you are pulling the wheels off your bus while you’re rolling down the road, it is really hard to swallow,” he said.

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