ROCKLAND, Maine — In an effort to brainstorm ideas about how to create a healthy, sustainable scallop industry on the midcoast, 15 fishermen met to discuss possible solutions Thursday night through a University of Maine Sea Grant and Cooperative Extension program.
In two years, some areas that are closed to scallop fishing will be opened. This might lead to an increase in scallop fishing, which was the driving force behind the brainstorming session.
“Talking to people, there’s not many guys fishing. Everyone thinks [scallop fishing] is going to increase dramatically,” said Sherm Hoyt, who moderated the meeting. “There are 600, 700 licenses that could come out of the woodwork.”
The group had trouble reaching a clear consensus but some agreed that the solution should be simple and might involve gear restrictions. Many people in the room did not think anything should be done.
“I’m saying do nothing,” said fisherman and scallop diver Brian Soper. “We already have everything in place that we need.”
The group debated whether any parts of the seafloor should be no-scallop-fishing zones and where those closed zones should be.
One young fisherman told the crowd that the waters need to be completely opened, otherwise the open areas will get more depleted and beaten up.
One man spoke up for partially opening closed areas.
“These closed areas will have a biological benefit over time,” said Jim Wotton.
Wotton said that if everyone is allowed to fish in the areas that now are closed, it will defeat the purpose of keeping the areas closed for so long. “We need limited access to those closed areas,” he said.
“You could even have rolling closed areas,” said Doug McLennon.
Soper said closed areas should be clearly visible so there could be stricter enforcement.
The area closures enacted last year by the Department of Marine Resources are one way the state is trying to protect the resource, according to David Etnier, deputy commissioner of the department. The 12 noncontiguous closures, which are spread out between Casco Bay and the St. Croix River, are set to expire in 2012. DMR hopes to develop, with the help of local scallop fishermen, a set of criteria for reopening each closure area.
None of the fishermen who met Thursday night favored another local meeting in the near future and none of the men volunteered to be on a local committee to discuss the issue further.
But Hoyt, who helped organize the meeting, said his goal was met: to get scallop fishermen thinking and talking about a sustainable future for Maine’s fishery.
“It’s harder than rocket science,” Hoyt said after the meeting.
BDN writer Bill Trotter contributed to this report.