ELLSWORTH, Maine — State officials are proposing scallop fishing regulations for the 2012-2013 season that, for the first time, would create multiple fishing zones along Maine’s coast.
The zones would not determine where some fishermen can fish and others cannot, however. Any licensed scallop fisherman still would be allowed to fish wherever it is allowed. The creation of the zones, according to Maine Department of Marine Resources, simply would affect how the resource is managed in each zone.
The measure is being proposed as Maine tries to get its coastal scallop fishery to rebound. Declining catches and stocks along the coast in recent years prompted state officials to enact several closure areas along the coast, most of which expired this summer after being in effect for three years. An emergency closure in Cobscook Bay that was enacted last winter expired when the season ended at the end of March.
There would be three zones with the proposal. The first would extend from the New Hampshire border to western Penobscot Bay. The second would extend from the western side of Isleboro, North Haven and Vinalhaven in Penobscot Bay to the Lubec-Campobello Bridge. The third would include Cobscook Bay and the St. Croix River.
Trisha DeGraaf, resource coordinator for DMR, indicated Friday by email that the creation of zones reflects the varying scallop conditions along the coast and the need to try different management techniques.
“After numerous public meetings with industry over the past year, it became evident that the resource, as well as the industry itself, varies greatly along the coast of Maine,” DeGraaf said.
“The department wanted to allow for flexibility along the coast in the management strategies employed to achieve the common goal of rebuilding the scallop resource.”
For Zone 1, DMR is proposing to convert areas that were closed through March into limited-access areas where fishing would be allowed only one day a week in December and two days a week through the rest of the season.
For Zone 2, DMR is proposing to enact a rotational closure plan in which different sections of the zone would be closed at varying points over a 10-year period. One third of Zone 2 would be closed to fishing for the 2012-2013 scallop season.
Both Zone 1 and Zone 2 would have 15-gallon daily limits and a 64-day season. The annual winter scallop season has been 70 days long since the 2007-2008 season, when it was 132 days long. In recent years, seasons typically have begun in December and ended in March.
For Zone 3, two options still are being considered. One option calls for a 10-year rotating management plan, similar to what is proposed for Zone 2, and would set a daily catch limit of 15 gallons and a 64-day season. The second option for Zone 3 calls for only a limited-access area in the smaller Whiting and Dennys bays, where fishing would be allowed only one day a week in December and two days a week for the rest of the season. The second option for Zone 3 would set a 10-gallon daily limit and a 42-day season in that zone.
For all proposed zones, DMR also is considering a maximum “meat count” of 35 scallop muscles, or meat, per pint and a trigger mechanism that would allow the department to close down limited-access areas at a moment’s notice.
According to DeGraaf, DMR officials will develop a set of fishing effort and resource indicators that it monitors to determine whether a limited-access area should be closed. The goal, she said, is to remove no more than 30 to 40 percent of the harvestable biomass in each area over the course of the season.
DMR also is proposing to enact one-year closure areas ranging from Chandler Bay just east of Jonesport to parts of Casco Bay.
DMR plans to hold three public hearings early next month to solicit feedback about the proposal. The first will be held Monday, Oct. 1, at University of Maine at Machias, and the second the following night at Ellsworth City Hall. The third will be held Thursday, Oct. 4 at the Lincoln County 911 Communications Center in Wiscasset. The public hearings each start at 6 p.m.
The deadline for submitting comments on the proposal is Monday, Oct. 15.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.
An earlier version of this story contained some inaccurate information about scallop fishing restrictions being considered for this coming winter in Cobscook Bay and the St. Croix River. If a 10-year rotating closure plan is adopted for the river and bay, there would be a daily catch limit of 15 gallons, not 20 gallons.