ELLSWORTH, Maine — Rotational closures in eastern Maine, none in western Maine, and a 185-pound daily catch limit from Kittery to Lubec are among scallop fishing measures recommended to the state by industry officials.
The Scallop Advisory Council, made up of fishermen, dealers and other industry officials, came up with its list of recommendations to the Maine Department of Marine Resources late last month. Its recommendations also include a 70-day season, limited access to fishing areas that have been closed, and a still-undefined trigger mechanism that would enable DMR to close down areas without notice.
Trisha De Graaf, DMR resource coordinator, said Monday that the reason the council is not recommending rotating closures west of Penobscot Bay is because the scallop concentrations there are relatively sparse. Members of the council were concerned that if a rotating closure schedule is adopted for western Maine, there won’t be enough harvestable concentrations of scallops in open areas for fishermen to be able to earn a living off their catch, she said.
For Cobscook Bay the recommendations are slightly different. The council could not settle on one recommendation for that area, so instead suggested two options: either a 70-day season with a daily catch limit of 135 pounds, if half of the bay is closed each year; or a 34-day season with a daily catch limit of 90 pounds with no rotational closure system.
Cobscook Bay already has a daily catch limit of 135 pounds, while along the rest of the coast the limit now is 200 pounds. The minimum catch size for individual scallops is a shell diameter of 4 inches.
De Graaf said the goal of enacting the long-term closure schedule is to rebuild the scallop stocks and to make sure they are harvested at a sustainable rate so the fishery can survive well into the future.
DMR has said it is strongly considering a long-term rotational closure scheme that would result in several areas along the entire coast being closed to scallop fishing each year for the foreseeable future. The rotation schedule would be set up over a three-year period, with eventually two-thirds of the coast being closed each year to scallop harvesting.
In 2009, declining scallop stocks prompted the department to enact a dozen emergency closure areas. Those closures are expiring this year.
Last December, just after the season started, DMR closed a 13th area in Cobscook Bay. The western end of the bay, which consists of the smaller Whiting and Dennys bays, was closed after fishermen told DMR officials that most of the scallops they were finding were below the 4-inch limit.
De Graaf said all areas that have been closed will reopen for the 2012-2012 season but access to them likely will be limited. Fishing in those areas would be allowed one day a week in December and two days a week for the rest of the season, which would run through March. Scallop stocks have rebounded in these areas, De Graaf said, but DMR would monitor them closely and perhaps close them again if fishing efforts in those areas become too intense.
De Graaf said the department could use the trigger mechanism to close other areas that have had intensive fishing but not been closed, such as Blue Hill Bay or Mussel Ridge off Tenants Harbor.
The department is expected to review the council’s recommendations and then to come up with another proposal that will be submitted this fall to the DMR Advisory Council, which will have the final say on the season length and catch restrictions. De Graaf is expected to host a few public hearings on the department’s proposal along the coast in the next month or so before it is submitted to the DMR Advisory Council for final approval, she said.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.
An earlier version of this story contained an error. The as-yet unscheduled public meetings state officials plan to hold on the scallop fishing measures will be hosted by Trisha De Graaf, resource coordinator for Maine Department of Marine Resources. DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher is not expected to attend the meetings.