ELLSWORTH, Maine — It looks like the coming winter scallop season will be cut short in Cobscook Bay for the second year in a row, according to a state official.
The Maine Department of Marine Resources held an informational meeting Monday night in Ellsworth, and plans to hold more in Whiting and in Hallowell over the next week, to make sure scallop fishermen understand the various types of limited access and area closures that will be in effect for the 2012-2013 scallop fishing season.
Trisha DeGraaf, resource management coordinator for DMR, told about two dozen people at the Ellsworth meeting Monday night that scallop growth this past year in Cobscook Bay, historically one of the most productive scallop fishing grounds in the state, has not been as good as officials had hoped it would be.
Last season, only two weeks after the season began, state regulators brought scallop fishing to an abrupt halt in a large, central portion of Cobscook Bay. The decision to close the area was made after fishermen told regulators they were catching plenty of scallops but not many of them met the four-inch minimum size requirement for harvesting.
DeGraaf said Monday that a recent survey of scallops in Cobscook Bay indicated that there are a lot of them, but 85 percent of them are below legal size. She said DMR officials had hoped more of the scallops in the bay would be of legal size by now but that their growth rate seems to have slowed.
“We’re not sure why,” she said. “There’s definitely a lot of [scallops] down there.”
DeGraaf said she expects that the department will close Cobscook Bay to scallop fishing with an emergency declaration before March 20, when Maine’s scallop season is expected to end. In Cobscook Bay, scallop fishing currently is scheduled to be allowed for 44 days spread out over December, January and March. Regardless of whether DMR ends the season early in Cobscook Bay, no scallop fishing will be allowed in the bay in February.
“It’s probably more likely a question of when” fishing in the bay will be shut down early rather than if, DeGraaf said.
Scallop fishing along the entire Maine coast is scheduled to begin on Sunday, Dec. 2. In Zones 1 and 2, the dividing line of which is in western Penobscot Bay, scallop fishing will be permitted for 70 days, including 19 weekdays in February. Cobscook Bay is considered to be Zone 3 under DMR regulations.
As in previous years, any licensed Maine scallop fisherman will continue to be allowed to fish in any open area, regardless of what zone it is in.
Prior to 2009, there were no closed scallop fishing areas along Maine’s coast, but declining stocks then prompted state officials to take action. The state closed a dozen areas along the coast to scallop fishing for three years, with those closures expiring last spring.
For this season, those closures have been turned into limited access areas, where fishing will be allowed only one or two days a week. In addition, nine new areas along the coast between Casco and Chandler bays will be closed just for the 2012-2013 season.
The state also has adopted a rotational closure plan for Zone 2, between western Penobscot Bay and Lubec, that is expected to result in two-thirds of the eastern Maine coastline being closed to scallop fishing from late 2014 to early 2022. For the next two winter scallop seasons, starting next month until early 2014, one-third of the areas in Zone 2 will be closed to scallop fishing.
Among other measures adopted for the 2012-2013 scallop season are a 185-pound daily harvest limit in zones 1 and 2 and a 90-pound daily limit in Zone 3.
Another meeting about the 2012-2013 scallop season was expected to be held 4-6 p.m. Nov. 20 at the town office in Whiting. A third meeting is scheduled at the same time on Tuesday, Nov. 27, in room 106 of the state’s Natural Resources Service Center in Hallowell.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.