ELLSWORTH, Maine — To protect the ability of scallop fishing beds to replenish themselves, state officials have closed down scallop fishing areas in Hancock County and in Washington County.
Maine Department of Marine Resources indicated Friday that it was closing limited-access fishing areas off Jonesport and Addison, in northwest Blue Hill Bay, in Englishman Bay and in Machias and Little Machias bays.
“The department is concerned that continued harvesting during the remainder of [this] fishing season in these areas would damage sublegal scallops that could be caught during subsequent fishing seasons,” DMR officials said in a prepared statement. “Continued harvesting would also reduce any remaining broodstock that is essential to a recovery, within the [affected areas]. An immediate conservation closure is necessary to reduce the risk of unusual damage and imminent depletion.”
Last month, DMR closed scallop fishing grounds at the mouth of the Damariscotta River, in Somes Sound and around Greenings Island off Mount Desert Island, and in Gouldsboro and Dyer bays off Gouldsboro and Steuben. In December, the department closed the inner harbor in Blue Hill one week into the season and then, on Dec. 22, closed three more areas — in Muscongus Bay, off Deer Isle and in Moosabec Reach off Jonesport
All the closed bays have been part of limited access areas that DMR established last fall as part of a new management scheme for the scallop fishery. New DMR rules enacted for this year allow the department to close such areas immediately when 30 to 40 percent of the harvestable biomass is believed to have been removed during the season.
This winter’s scallop season began Dec. 2 and is expected to run until March 20. For the first time, three scallop zones have been established along the coast for this season, each with a different combination of harvest rules. Any licensed Maine scallop fisherman can fish in each of the three zones.
Before 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 has been allowed only one or two days a week. In addition, nine new areas along the coast between Casco and Chandler bays are closed just for the 2012-2013 season.
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.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.