MACHIAS, Maine — Scallop fisherman enjoyed a banner year in 2013, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources, but they are likely to have smaller catches next season because of conservation measures.
Fisherman landed 424,547 pounds of scallops in 2013, the most since 2000. Their catch was valued at nearly $5.2 million, the highest since 1998.
Precise figures for the 2013-14 season are not available yet, according to DMR officials, and will not be available until early 2015 because of the state’s reporting system.
According to data provided by seafood dealers to DMR, scallop landings were 427,080 pounds in the 2012-13 season and were valued at $4.8 million, which represented a significant increase over the previous four seasons. Landings ranged from a low of 84,519 pounds in the 2008-09 season to 192,201 in the 2009-10 season. The best of those four seasons for value was 2011-12, when the catch was worth $1.8 million.
“It’s definitely on an upward trajectory,” Trisha DeGraaf, DMR resource management coordinator, said when discussing the scallop fishery Monday.
DMR has been meeting with scallop fishermen to share information and gather input in recent weeks and more meetings are scheduled this week and next. The sessions are a prelude to the Scallop Advisory Council meeting in Brewer on June 30, at which DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher is expected to present his recommendations for next season.
DMR staff held meetings in Ellsworth on Monday and in Machias on Tuesday. A third meeting has been scheduled in Blue Hill on Wednesday. The final meeting will be in Dennysville on June 24.
Cobscook Bay in Washington County has, by far, produced the bounty of Maine’s scallops in a fishery that is divided into three zones. DMR estimates that 329,400 pounds of scallops were harvested from Cobscook Bay last season. That would be almost three-quarters of the total 2013 landings.
“I think that’s a pretty fair assessment,” DeGraaf said.
However, fishermen likely will be faced with a much less bountiful season from Cobscook Bay for the 2014-15 season. That’s because DMR estimates the bay contains only about 148,860 pounds of harvestable scallops for the upcoming season. Based on the same number of fishermen, that would mean a season of only 12 days to reach that target compared to 33 days for the season that recently ended.
“I know 12 days is really shocking,” DeGraaf told about a dozen fishermen in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting at the Rose Gaffney Elementary school in Machias. However, she reminded the fishermen that commissioner Keliher is “really flexible.”
DeGraaf also said she is concerned about Cobscook Bay because there has not been strong development of sub-legal scallops to a harvestable size.
Paul Cox, a fishermen from Edmunds attending Tuesday’s meeting, disagreed.
“There’s a lot of sub-legal scallops in Cobscook Bay,” he countered.
Fishermen face a similar scenario in Zone 2, which extends from Lubec to the middle of the Penobscot Bay, according to DeGraaf. Five areas in the zone that are rotated for harvesting scallops have experienced poor recruitment — scallops progressing in growth to reach harvestable size — and low abundance, she said.
“This upcoming season … is going to be a skinny season in Zone 2,” she said, because of the rotation system. “People are understandably anxious,” she added.
Under the rotational management system, two-thirds of the areas in Zone 2 will be closed to scalloping for the 2014-15 season, and one-third of the area that has been closed for two years will re-open.
The fishery has experienced two good back-to-back seasons, but DeGraff told the Scallop Advisory Council in April, she predicted “a few lean years” ahead.
“We’ve seen positive results from conservation measures,” DeGraaf said.
But as scallops have grown more abundant, they have attracted more fisherman and increased harvesting pressure.
The number of active fishermen has increased every year from 131 in 2008 to 368 in 2012. There were 421 fishermen active in the fishery in 2013.
The consensus so far from fishermen attending the meetings is that they want the fishery to be sustainable, DeGraaf said. The industry “does want to rebuild this fishery,” she said.