ELLSWORTH, Maine — The outlook may be positive for offshore scallop stocks on Georges Bank, but news that the area’s population of young scallops is increasing doesn’t necessarily mean that scallops in Maine waters will enjoy a similar rebound, according to a state biologist.
A recent survey released Monday by the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicates that the number of juvenile scallops on Georges Bank, which extends east into the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Cod, was the highest since 2000.
Numbers of young scallops in the mid-Atlantic dropped but still remain high, according to Dvora Hart, the NOAA scientist who conducted the survey. The sea scallop fishery is one of the most valuable in the country, sometimes bringing in more than $400 million a year.
Kevin Kelly, a biologist with Maine Department of Marine Resources, said Tuesday that the NOAA study does has no immediate implications for Maine’s inshore scallop fishery, which has suffered from a sharp drop in scallop stocks in recent years. If there is anything to be taken from the study of the federal fishing areas, he said, it is that periodic closures and improved management could help Maine’s scallop populations rebound.
“In my mind, it won’t rebuild to a sustainable level unless we take precautions now,” Kelly said.
Kelly said that many factors affect scallop reproduction, such as water currents, food supply and temperature, and that how the multiple factors combine to affect scallop stocks is not always clear.
He suggested that the increase of young scallops on Georges Bank could be attributed partially to groundfish closures in the area that the federal government instituted in the 1990s. Because of closures of large parts of Georges Bank to groundfish and scallop harvesting, he said, the scallop populations there have been given the chance to grow, as long as the natural conditions were favorable.
“We’re kind of separate from those two areas,” Kelly said, referring to federal fishing areas on Georges Bank and offshore from the mid-Atlantic states. “The fishery is very productive offshore in federal waters.”
In Maine, the state scallop season nearly was canceled last winter by state officials because of fears about declining scallop stocks along the coast. DMR instead enacted emergency spot-closures and is developing a plan that would close certain areas of the coast for the next three years.
The number of days fishermen will be allowed to harvest scallops is expected to remain around 70. The state reduced the number of fishing days to 70 last winter after allowing scallop fishing for 132 days during the 2007-08 season.
The state is expected to make final decisions on closure areas and number of fishing days sometime next month.
Kelly said the amount of scallops harvested in Maine has declined steadily since the early 1990s, when more than 13 million pounds of scallops were brought ashore.
In 2004 and again in 2005, only about 180,000 pounds of scallops were harvested in Maine, according to DMR statistics. In the years since, between 1.1 million and 1.45 million pounds of scallops have been harvested annually in Maine, roughly one-tenth of the landings total from 1993.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.