BREWER, Maine — A divided state scallop advisory council ignored the recommendations of fisheries experts with the Maine Department of Marine Resources and proposed the same number of fishing days for next season.
DMR staff proposed a shorter season in all zones with the same daily scallop harvest limits as before. The agency suggested 48 scallop fishing days for Zone 1 and Zone 2 and 32 days for Zone 3, which is the Cobscook Bay region.
Instead, members of the 13-member council, which is made up of fishermen, dealers and other industry officials to advise DMR, voted at their meeting Monday to recommend the same number of fishing days for next season — 70 days for Zones 1 and 2, and 50 days for Zone 3. (Scallop fishermen did not get all those days in the last season; by emergency action, the agency curtailed the scallop harvest — notably in the Cobscook Bay region, where the number of days was trimmed to 33.)
The council vote was split, 6-3 with two abstentions.
DMR staff made no proposals for changing the daily harvest limits, which are 15 gallons per boat for Zones 1 and 2 and 10 gallons for Zone 3.
DMR resource management coordinator Trisha De Graaf briefed the council members for about 30 minutes on information the department has gathered as well as on the results of meetings the department held with scallop fishermen in recent weeks.
DMR Commissioner Pat Keliher, who attended the council meeting, will make a decision as early as this week about what rule to propose for next season’s schedule. His proposal will be subject to a public hearing process, which would begin in September, and the advisory council, which will have the final say on the season length and catch restrictions, would consider it in October.
There was “quite a lengthy debate over the 48 days” recommended for Zones 1 and 2, De Graaf said of the three-hour council meeting.
The agency’s data for Zone 1 and Zone 2 are not as comprehensive as the data it has collected for the Cobscook Bay region, De Graaf said Tuesday. “Because we don’t have data, we wanted to err on the side of caution and recommend a more conservative season,” she explained.
“The goal is to rebuild,” said De Graaf, “but you’re trying to accommodate people who are getting back into the fishery … That’s why we’re putting so much effort into micromanaging this fishery.”
One hundred and thirty-one fishermen were active in scallop harvesting in 2008, she noted; the number was 421 in 2013.
Justin Boyce, a scallop dragger from Stonington, which is in Zone 2, who serves as vice chairman of the council, was critical of the department’s recommendations.
“I’m not a fan of a traveling fleet,” Boyce said Tuesday. He said a management system of rotating when areas may be fished encourages fishermen to steam to other areas to harvest scallops.
“Forcing boats into such small areas … it’s ridiculous,” said Boyce, who voted with the council majority.
“There’s a lot of bottom to fish,” he added. “It’s just not managed correctly.”
Boyce said he usually tries to stay within two hours of home but indicated he may have to fish farther away the next two seasons.
A short winter season for scallops encourages fishermen to continue lobstering and puts more pressure on that fishery, contended Boyce.
The traveling fleet has been a big objection of fisherman who live in the scallop-rich Cobscook Bay area and who dislike fishermen to the west steaming to the bay region to harvest scallops.