BLUE HILL, Maine — Citing a high number of boats in the area on the first day it was open, the Maine Department of Marine Resources has decided to close the inner harbor in Blue Hill to scallop fishing for the remainder of the season.
The emergency closure, which includes part of an area in the northern reaches of Blue Hill Bay that is accessible this year on a limited basis, goes into effect on Monday, Dec. 10.
Between February 2009 and the end of this past March, the upper end of the bay between Carter Point in Blue Hill Falls and the tip of Newbury Neck in Surry has been closed to scallop fishing. Last week, it reopened for the first time in more than three years as one of several limited access areas along the coast, in which scallop fishing is permitted fewer days per week than regular open fishing areas.
The closures over the past four years have been intended to help the population of scallops near shore recover from overfishing. The annual harvest of scallops in Maine peaked at 3.8 million pounds of meat in 1981 but since then has declined to less than 200,000 pounds per year.
Trisha DeGraaf, resource coordinator for DMR, indicated Friday in an emailed announcement of the emergency closure that when the scallop season opened last week, a “large component” of 60 licensed scallop vessels showed up in Blue Hill Bay to target a large scallop bed in the bay. When the limited access area opened on Dec. 3, 30 vessels crammed their way into the inner harbor to fish.
“This area was heavily fished by these vessels, resulting in its immediate depletion, with many vessels having to move out of the harbor to either the remaining portion of the Blue Hill Bay limited access area or even out of the limited access area entirely to the adjacent open areas to meet their daily limit of 20 gallons of meats,” DeGraaf wrote in the email.
Because of concern that such a concentrated, heavy fishing effort could result in “unusual damage” to scallops smaller than the minimum harvest size of four inches, DMR has decided to close the inner harbor for the rest of the scallop season, which runs until March 20. Scallop fishing will not be allowed in the harbor west of a line between Sculpin point and Parker Point, according to DeGraaf.
Late last winter, DMR considered an immediate closure of an adjacent area of Blue Hill Bay after a large number of fishing vessels showed up and several were cited by Marine Patrol for harvesting undersized scallops. The department decided against an early closure in the bay last March because the 2011-2012 season was almost over.
DMR also announced some other emergency changes and clarifications to this winter’s scallop and urchin seasons. The department clarified that the daily catch limit throughout the state is 20 gallons of harvested scallop meats or 30 bushels of aggregated meat and shellstock. It also clarified that fishermen are not allowed to make more than one fishing trip per day or to transfer any part of their catch from one vessel to another.
In the urchin fishery, DMR adopted an emergency rule on Friday that limits fishermen in Whiting and Dennys bays in Washington County to harvesting 10 stackable totes of urchins per day.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.