MACHIAS, Maine — Scientists, researchers, fishermen and representatives from the Maine Department of Marine Resources gathered here Thursday to determine how research funds can best be used to help the state’s scallop fishery rebound.
“The state of the scallop industry is pretty dire,” University of Maine at Machias research scientist Dr. Brian Beal said.
In 1999, there were 741 dragger licenses and 353 diver licenses issued for scallops. In 2009, those numbers dropped to 683 draggers and 135 divers.
But even more disturbing is the decline in harvest and market value since 1999, when 5.3 million pounds of scallops were harvested with a value of $4.4 million. Ten years later, the catch has plummeted to 700,000 pounds worth only $600,000.
“That tiny harvest is gruesome,” Beal said.
Of the 22 people at Thursday’s meeting, only six were scallop fishermen, which Beal said indicated the lack of interest in the fishery.
“If there are no scallops, you turn to something else,” he said.
Togue Brawn of DMR said Thursday’s gathering was aimed at determining what the unanswered questions are regarding scallops.
“There is a lot we don’t know,” she said.
The questions generated about the industry at the meeting will help influence the use of scallop research funds, she said.
“We are doing similar brainstorming sessions for lobsters, scallops and herring,” Brawn said. “They will provide a tool kit, or a road map for the scallop industry. Science, after all, underpins management.”
Kate Burns of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute said the research priorities for the next several years would be determined by those present.
Some of the topics covered included stock structures, monitoring and assessment, habitat and early life history.
Presenters included Beal, Kevin Kelly of DMR, John Grabowski of DMR, and Erin Owen of Husson University.
Beal, who also operates the Down East Institute for Marine Research on Great Wass Island, said he has limited success with growing spat — scallop larvae — in bags off the coast of Beals Island, but has failed miserably at trying to raise scallops in hatchery tanks.
“They will spawn and fertilize,” he said. “But something happens between days two and 20 and we don’t know what it is.”
He said he continues to research how water temperature, food supply and geography affect scallop growth.
“Eighty to 90 percent of all scallops harvested are in Cobscook Bay,” he said. “DMR’s Kevin Kelly’s report in September showed there are hardly any scallops anywhere other than Cobscook Bay. Why is this such a great place for scallops? We need to know this.”
Beal also said that there are large tracts of coastline now closed to scalloping and that this is a “golden opportunity that no one is looking into. This could be a coastwide experiment to see how the lack of fishing affects scallop growth.”
Thursday’s discussions will generate a report to be used by DMR to stimulate new and continuing research by the marine science community.