WHITING, Maine — State officials met with fishermen on Friday to warn them of impending emergency action to reduce dragging and diving for scallops.
The meeting in the Whiting Community Center was standing room only, with about 100 fishermen present. They did not take the news well, and at times there were testy exchanges between fishermen and Patrick Keliher, commissioner of the state Department of Marine Resources.
Fishermen, who are enjoying record high prices at about $12-13 per pound, already have harvested 278,100 pounds of scallops from Cobscook Bay this season, reported Trisha De Graaf, a state marine resource management coordinator who briefed fisherman at the outset of the meeting. That figure represents about 73 percent of the harvestable biomass of 380,100 pounds. Any additional harvest would be tantamount to overfishing the resource, she said.
More than twice as many boats are fishing the bay compared to the start of last season, according to De Graaf. She attributed the increase to the bay’s healthy scallop fishery and also the closing of the Gulf of Maine shrimp fishery in December.
Actions being considered for emergency rulemaking include closing the lower Cobscook Bay and reducing the season in Zone 3 (Cobscook area) from three days per week to one day per week, and, in Zones 1 and 2 (New Hampshire to Lubec), from five days per week to four days per week.
The DMR also is considering conservation closures in the Damariscotta River, Medomak (Waldoboro) River, Southeast Harbor (Deer Isle) Limited Access Area, Somes Harbor (MDI), and a small area on the western side of the Jonesport bridge (Moosabec Reach) as well as reductions in available fishing days in Muscle Ridge.
Keliher left the meeting making a commitment to fishermen that whatever action the agency takes would not affect their ability to fish Monday-Wednesday next week.
“The hardest thing I have to do is make decisions like this,” Keliher said as the meeting wrapped up after 90 minutes. He pledged to take the views of the fishermen into account.
At one point he got into a brief heated exchange with Jonathan Wallace of Lubec.
“Listen to me,” an angry Keliher said raising his voice. “Listen to me,” he repeated as Wallace talked over him. “Listen to me or get out of this room.” Wallace accused the department’s regulatory practices of hindering fishermen.
When one fisherman suggested state officials wanted to kill the scallop fishery, another quipped, “They want the fishermen dead, not the fishery,” a remark which generated some laughter.
Fishermen acknowledged the scallop harvest has been plentiful. Some even suggested that scallops are dying before they can be harvested, and they questioned the science behind the agency’s considerations.
“We’re not coming here as vassal serfs,” said one angry fishermen. The department should take another look at its scientific data, he said. “It’s not good enough.”
Tim Sheehan, a seafood dealer in Pembroke, suggested the fishermen were scientists themselves without degrees. “If they say there’re scallops here, there’re scallops here,” he told Keliher.