ELLSWORTH, Maine — Sea urchin fishermen will get a chance this week to weigh in on prospective dates for the fall and winter urchin fishing season when the state Sea Urchin Zone Council meets in Ellsworth.
The 15 member council is scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 28, at City Hall to discuss the prospective fishing dates for Zones 1 and 2. Zone 1 includes the western side of Penobscot Bay and points west. Zone 2 includes the eastern side of Penobscot Bay and everything eastward to the Canadian border.
The meeting is open to the public. The council’s recommendation will be forwarded to officials with Maine Department of Marine Resources, which will have the final decision on the 2011-12 urchin fishing dates.
Fishing was allowed last fall and this past winter for a total of 30 days in Zone 1 and 77 days in Zone 2. Each of those totals were divided between fishermen who drag for urchins and fishermen who harvest urchins by other means, such as by diving, raking and trapping.
Urchin catches plummeted in the late 1990s after Japanese buyers came calling in the late 1980s, creating a surge in demand that led to the resource being overfished. Annual landings for urchins peaked in 1993 at more than 41 million pounds, but over the past five years they have varied between 2 million and 3.5 million. In 2010 an estimated 2.23 million pounds of urchins, for which the fishery was paid $4.5 million, were harvested in Maine.
As the catch has fallen off, so has the number of licensed fishermen in the fishery. In 1994, there were 2,725 licensed urchin fishermen in Maine, but by 2009 that number had decreased to around 430.