MACHIAS, Maine — A small group of fishermen from the Cobscook Bay region gathered Thursday to air complaints about the recent decision of state officials to prematurely close the scallop season.
There are “plenty of scallops around,” said Danny Jodway of Lubec, one of seven fisherman who gathered for breakfast at Helen’s Restaurant and invited reporters to listen to their grievances. Most fishermen can get their limit in roughly an hour, he said.
Department of Marine Resources officials declined to comment on the complaints of the fishermen on Thursday, simply referring to the information the department released last week when announcing the emergency closure that took effect on Feb. 8.
Besides closing Zone 3, which comprises Cobscook Bay and the Saint Croix River, DMR also shut down five other small areas spread out along the coast.
The closures were necessary in order to protect scallop stocks in the affected areas, according to DMR officials, who enacted other emergency conservation measures for the Cobscook Bay region in January.
But the zone to the immediate west remains open for scalloping, noted Joshua Lyons of Lubec, one of the most vocal critics in the group, and scallops may be harvested there five days a week. “How’s that fair?” he asked.
Fishermen who live in the Cobscook Bay region compete during the scallop season with other fisherman to the west in communities like Cutler, Machiasport and Bucks Harbor, the fishermen argued. The Cobscook Bay fishery draws about 70 more boats from outside the region, they said.
The issue of competition is compounded by the fact that communities to the west have local ordinances limiting the number of moorings, which prohibits the Lubec fisherman from plying neighboring waters. Although they can legally fish in the neighboring zone to the west, the Lubec fishermen say it is not economically feasible to make the trip by boat each time they want to fish; if they had a mooring, they could make the trip by boat once, and then on fishing days travel back and forth to the mooring site by car or truck.
The action by DMR last week eliminated 17 scheduled days that fishermen would have been allowed to drag or dive for scallops in the Cobscook Bay region. Those 17 days are the equivalent of about $20,000 of lost income to each of about 50 fishermen in the region, according to Lyons.
“That’s what we miss out on,” said Lyons. “That’s a lot of money. My stern man’s a new daddy. He could use that money.”
Fishermen have been enjoying record high prices for scallops this season. When state officials enacted the emergency closure, scallopers were getting $12.50 per pound, the fishermen said. The daily limit in the Cobscook Bay region is 90 pounds of meat, which — at that price — represents earnings of $1,125 before expenses.
Scallops are so abundant in the Cobscook Bay region that they are not being harvested fast enough, and many are dying off, the fishermen argued. The dead and dying scallops are known as clappers, and Tracy Sawtell of Lubec estimated that 50 percent of the scallops in the Whiting River are clappers.
“They grow so quick in our bay,” added Ricky Wright, also of Lubec.
The region has led the way in some conservation measures imposed by DMR, noted Sawtell. It was the first region where a limit on scallops was established, first where a meat count was established, and first where urchin harvesting was closed temporarily.
“We make it good for the rest of the state,” said Sawtell, “and then we get penalized for it.”
He also complained about the agency’s practice of conducting surveys and research to determine areas of the most abundant harvestable scallops and notifying fishermen where they are.
With the fishermen prohibited from dragging and diving, “I’m curious what the DMR is supposed to do,” said Sawtell. “I don’t know who it is they’re supposed to be patrolling.”