AUGUSTA, Maine — State legislators are expected today to consider a proposal to increase the fines for illegal scallop harvesting.
Sen. Dennis Damon is sponsor of a bill, LD 82, which if approved would impose a fine of $1,000 on anyone who is found guilty of harvesting scallops in a closed conservation area.
The Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee is expected to hold a work session on the bill at 10 a.m. today in Room 214 of the Cross Building at the State House complex. The public is welcome to observe the session but will not have the opportunity to provide comment on the bill unless specifically asked to do so by the legislative committee.
Damon said Tuesday he sponsored the bill in order to create significant penalties for anyone who violates closed scallop fishing areas that have been established by the state Department of Marine Resources.
According to Lt. Alan Talbot of DMR’s Marine Patrol division, the current fine for fishing in a closed scallop fishing area is $250.
Damon’s bill would require a mandatory fine of $1,000 for a first offense and allow law enforcement officers to seize all scallops found on a boat that is being used to fish in a closed zone. For a second or subsequent offense, violators again would face a mandatory $1,000 fine, possible seizure of all scallops on board their vessel, and a license suspension of one year.
“The proposal is to increase the fines for dragging in closed areas, to put more teeth in it,” Damon said. “This puts some pretty serious fines in there.”
DMR has proposed closing several areas of state waters to scallop harvesting because of what they say is an apparent steep decline in the state’s scallop populations. State officials originally proposed last month to cancel the entire second half of the winter season statewide, but changed their minds after realizing they could impose spot emergency closures.
Fishermen have objected to the announced closures and, in some cases, questioned whether they are warranted.
At a meeting last week in Ellsworth, the state’s Scallop Advisory Council agreed to recommend making changes to the proposed closed areas in order to lessen the impact of the closures on harvesters. Areas where closures are expected include all of Cobscook Bay, most of state waters off the York County coast, and some of the coastal waters off Addison, Jonesport and Beals. Parts of Blue Hill, Casco, Frenchman and Penobscot bays also are expected to be closed to scallop harvesting.
The closures are expected to last the entire second half of the winter scallop season, which runs from Feb. 25 through the end of March.
The Marine Resources committee also is expected today to hold work sessions on bills concerning softshell clams, alewives and the lobster license apprentice program.