ELLSWORTH, Maine — Fishermen in Maine could end up getting millions of dollars in federal economic stimulus funds if federal regulators approve requests from the state for marine and coastal habitat restoration money.
According to officials with the Maine Department of Marine Resources, the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plans to announce by May 1 how it will allocate $170 million in federal stimulus money nationwide. The money would be part of more than $1 billion Maine hopes to get as part of the broader federal economic stimulus package.
Maine has applied to NOAA for a total of more than $12 million, a couple of million of which could end up in the pockets of fishermen.
Togue Brawn, resource management coordinator for DMR, said Monday the department hopes to get $4.4 million to put toward scallop stock restoration efforts. Of that amount, between $2.5 million and $3 million would go directly toward more than 100 fishermen who participate in the program.
“It would be a big project,” Brawn said. “It is [about] trying to bring back resource.”
In February, already having reduced in previous years the number of days scallops can be fished, DMR officials enacted emergency spot closures along the coast because of sharply declining scallop stocks.
DMR also has applied to NOAA for more than $7 million that it would use for upgrading fish passage infrastructure in the Sheepscot River watershed and in northern and eastern Maine. Of that money, more than $5 million would be used to open up 250 acres of pond habitat and about 50 miles of stream habitat in the Sheepscot River area. More than $1 million would go toward improving fish passage accessibility in Caribou, Cherryfield and Sullivan. An additional $800,000 would go toward restoring salmon habitat in Devereux Township and in Winn.
According to Brawn, if the scallop funds come through, fishermen could get paid part time to collect juvenile scallops, known as spat. They would place two-layer mesh bags, perhaps 20 bags to a line, in relatively deep waters where spat are known to swim in the water column. The spat swim through the outer, larger mesh of the bag and attach themselves to the finer mesh of the inner layer. As they grow, they become too large to get back out through the outer layer and so are trapped in the bag, ready for fishermen to come pick them up.
The scallops then would be transferred to known scallop beds, where they could grow to harvestable size.
Brawn said the reseeding project also would involve some scientific research and perhaps relocation of adult scallops to depleted areas. The state wants to make sure it will not introduce any diseases or invasive species to new areas before it relocates any adult scallops, she said.
“The department has been reluctant to do that without making sure it is safe,” Brawn said.
Patrick Keliher, director of DMR’s Bureau of Sea Run Fisheries and Habitat, said Monday that the $7.7 million his bureau would get would not fund all of the projects his bureau would like to pursue. Congress specified that the stimulus money should be used for “shovel-ready” projects, he said, to ensure that it can help get people working as quickly as possible.
A lack of adequate staff has been one reason the bureau has been unable to pursue some of these projects, Keliher said. The bureau’s projects funded by the federal money is expected to create work for more than 60 people for up to two years, according to DMR documents.
“We wouldn’t be creating long-term positions,” Keliher said. “There’s a lot of work we need to be doing as far as habitat and passage work.”