ELLSWORTH, Maine — The daily limit for harvesting scallops along much of the coast has gone back up to 20 gallons, but further restrictions on fishing days and territory have gone into effect in Cobscook Bay, according to state officials.
Last week, officials with the Maine Department of Marine Resources indicated they had decided to close East and South bays, which are parts of larger Cobscook Bay, to scallop harvesting. With the previous closure of Dennys and Whiting bays, the new closures mean that all of Cobscook Bay west of a line between Shackford Head in Eastport and Comstock Point on Seward Neck are closed to scalloping.
Scallop diving and dragging still are allowed east of that line to the Canadian border, and on the American side of Passamaquoddy Bay and the St. Croix River.
Trisha DeGraaf, DMR resource management coordinator, said Tuesday that state fishery officials knew, and told fishermen last fall, that the high prevalence of undersized scallops in Cobscook Bay would result in most if not all of Cobscook Bay being shut down before the scheduled end of the season on March 20.
DeGraaf said that in the parts of Cobscook Bay and the St. Croix River that remain open, the number of fishing days allowed per week has been reduced from four to two. Scallop harvesting on Sundays and Mondays no longer is permitted, but continues to be allowed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The daily harvest limit in those areas remains 10 gallons, which is approximately 90 pounds.
DMR also advised that the daily harvest limit along the rest of the coast reverted to 20 gallons on March 8. The limit had been set at 15 gallons by an emergency regulation issued on Dec. 8, but emergency regulations expire after 90 days and cannot be extended, according to DeGraaf.
DeGraaf added that the next meeting of DMR’s Scallop Advisory Council is scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday, March 26, at Jeff’s Catering in Brewer. DMR officials hope to start talking about possible scallop fishing measures for next winter at the meeting, she said.
The regulatory changes announced last week are the latest of several, including closures, that have been enacted since the season began on Dec. 2.
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 sectors that were closed 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.
Correction: An earlier version of this story should have indicated that the daily catch limit reverted back to 20 gallons from 15 gallons, not pounds.