MACHIAS, Maine — The state Department of Marine Resources, acceding to the wishes of the Scallop Advisory Council, has proposed that draggers and divers be allowed to fish for scallops the same number of days in 2014-15 as the previous season.
However, Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher put fishermen on notice that the department likely will be faced with having to take emergency action to curtail the season.
The agency — following the advice of staff experts — initially had proposed reducing the number of days in all three fishing zones for the upcoming season to allow scallop stocks to continue to rebuild. The department had proposed cutting 22 days in Zones 1 and 2, which make up most of the coast, and 18 days in Zone 3, the scallop-rich Cobscook Bay region.
The council voted at a June 30 meeting 6-3 — with two abstentions — in favor of keeping the number of fishing days the same.
The proposed 2014-2015 scallop season, announced by DMR on Monday, calls essentially for a 70-day season in Zones 1 and 2 and a 15-gallon daily limit with separate calendars for divers and draggers. For Zone 3, a 50-day season and 10-gallon daily limit is proposed with separate calendars for divers and draggers. There are additional rules proposed for limited-access areas in Zones 1 and 3.
Although the number of days would be the same as the 2013-14 season, fishermen did not get to fish all the days that were initially set for this past season. Because DMR determined that more scallops were being harvested than its target goal, 17 days were cut from the Cobscook Bay region, and there were targeted closures in Zones 1 and 2. Keliher indicated the same scenario is likely for the 2014-15 season.
The agency held a series of meetings with fishermen before the council’s June session.
“We are putting forth a recommendation that considers industry interest and input,” Keliher said in the announcement issued by the agency Monday. “However, this decision runs counter to the advice of our science staff. So we anticipate having to cut days from the season with area closures enacted through emergency rulemaking as we detect depletion of the resource beyond what can be regenerated in a season.”
“I strongly support DMR’s decision on how to manage the fishery for the 2014-15 season,” John Wood, a Machiasport fisherman and seafood dealer who serves on the council, said Tuesday. “I think it’s spot on.”
“I think that really is the best way,” added Wood. If stocks are good, the agency can allow the season to run its course. If there is heavy fishing pressure and more scallops are removed than targeted, the agency can enact an emergency measure to close the season. “That’s extremely important,” said Wood.
James Ackley, a Machias fishermen who also serves on the council, also agreed with the approach of setting a longer season but having the ability to eliminate fishing days by emergency action if necessary.
“It’s better than the alternative,” he said, of setting a shorter season. The Department of Marine Resources can take emergency action to close the season early, he noted, but it cannot add fishing days or extend the season.
“Everybody I talked to wanted the … same season we had last year, with no cutbacks,” said Ackley, who proposed the same season when the council met in June.
The proposed season reflects DMR’s commitment to managing a healthy fishery resource as well as to the industry it supports, Gov. Paul LePage said in the department’s announcement.
“This is a balancing act,” he said. “The department must act swiftly with targeted closures if they detect any impacts to the rebuilding plan, while at the same time continuing to allow for sustainable harvest in other areas.”
Maine’s scallop fishery has rebounded dramatically since an all-time low of just over 33,000 pounds of scallop meats were harvested in 2005. Twenty percent of Maine waters were closed to scallop fishing in 2009 and were reopened as limited access areas in 2012, when the three zones were established for a targeted management approach. Scallop meat landings hit 454,547 pounds in 2013; the value of those landings was $5.1 million. At the same time, the number of harvesters has more than tripled from 131 in 2008 to 421 in 2013, increasing fishing pressure.
DMR will hold a series of three public hearings on the proposed season: in Brunswick Sept. 2, Machias Sept. 3, and Ellsworth Sept. 4. Keliher will review public comments collected during the hearings and make a final proposal to the DMR Advisory Council during its fall meeting before proceeding with rulemaking.