CALAIS, Maine — The shortened scallop season just got a whole lot shorter after the Department of Marine Resources announced Friday that it has canceled the second half of the fishing season.
The first half of the scallop-fishing season ran from Dec. 1 to Jan. 4 and was scheduled to resume Feb. 25 and run through March 31. But the DMR announced Friday that the season is over, blaming the closure on a declining scallop population.
The DMR already had cut the season to 70 days, down from 132 days last year.
“The resource is in terrible condition and has been for a number of years,” DMR Deputy Commissioner David Etnier said Friday. “And the first half of this season … the resource is no better if not worse, in fact worse, and we felt it would be irresponsible to let harvesting continue since we know that.”
Fishermen feel as though the “rug has been pulled out from under them,” according to Mary & Donna boat owner Mike Keating of Owls Head.
Keating said Friday he has spent more than $3,000 getting his gear ready to comply with DMR fishery regulations. He said he didn’t expect to make a lot of money this season but did expect to recover his costs during the second half of the season.
“It definitely was going to make my house payment and I was going to recoup my investment [in gear],” he said. “Right now I just spent a lot of time and money that I won’t be able to get back.”
Arthur Alley, captain of the Mary & Donna, said Friday that he spent $1,500 getting ready for the season.
“We probably could have been making money elsewhere instead of spending money on nothing,” he said of the canceled season. “We could have actually maybe found other work.”
Recent years have been tough for the industry.
Scallop landings have declined from a peak of nearly 4 million pounds in 1980-81 to less than 500,000 pounds each year since 2001, a DMR fact sheet said.
Although Cobscook Bay has had a healthy resource compared with other sites in Maine, it appears that it too has declined.
“By early December 2008, Marine Patrol and fishermen interviews indicated the fishing was so poor many fishermen had ‘given up’ fishing in Cobscook Bay,” the fact sheet said.
Survey results from 2005 to 2006 indicate a significant decline in scallop abundance in most coastal Maine areas.
“In western Maine, overall scallop abundance declined by an average of more than 50 percent between 2003 and 2005. Eastern Maine populations are also declining, with an overall drop between 2003 and 2006. The 2008 survey examined the eastern Maine coast outside of Cobscook Bay. Although the results have not yet been analyzed, observations indicate scallop abundance remains patchy and very low,” the fact sheet said.
“The Department is concerned that continued harvesting during the remainder of the 2008/2009 fishing season will further deplete a severely diminished resource,” the fact sheet said. “Continued harvesting may damage sublegal scallops that could be caught during subsequent fishing seasons, as well as reducing the broodstock that could lead to a recovery. Continued fishing without protective measures in place will further deplete the resource and jeopardize recovery. The data outlined here, combined with the failure to establish any substantial conservation closures within Maine waters, suggest Maine’s scallop population is at risk of imminent depletion.”
Conservation measures have been put in place, including a 4-inch ring requirement for drags and 200-pound catch limits, but apparently have not prevented stocks from declining.
State officials say more measures are necessary, including creating management areas and then designating portions of those as closed areas.
“As a scallop conservation area, as a rotational spawning area — whatever you want to call it — that is obviously a no-harvest zone for anybody,” the deputy commissioner said.
Keating agreed something has to be done. “Adopt some kind of zone regulations like they did with lobstering,” he suggested. “That would keep local boats in their local areas.”
The boat owner also said he does not oppose a shorter season, but he wants to decide when he fishes. “You pick your 50 or 70 days within a five-month period,” he recommended.
Keating said that during the first part of the 2008 season he was only able to fish eight out of 35 days because December was such a windy month. “Weatherwise it has been horrific trying to fish,” he said. “We had very few full days.”
The announcement Friday is also causing consternation among town and city officials in Washington County.
“Word out of Augusta that the second half of the scallop season has been canceled is a terrible blow to local fishermen who make their living from the bays that surround Eastport,” City Manager George “Bud” Finch said Friday. He said Eastport has about two dozen boats that drag for scallops in and around waters off Eastport.
“The reduction to the 35 days of scalloping that has already been completed will be devastating to the local fishermen who depend on the season as their major source of income,” Finch added. “This is just more bad news on top of the many issues they have faced in the industry ranging from the increased cost of fuel, to sizing issues, to minimizing the size of a day’s catch.”
In nearby Lubec, the closure will affect about 60 fishermen as well as others, such as local stores and people who purchase the catch.
“In addition to the boat owner there are stern men and ‘shuckers’ who will also lose their livelihood,” Lubec Town Administrator Maureen Glidden said Friday.
State Sen. Kevin Raye, R-Perry, also is concerned. “Washington County does have the largest scallop industry so it does have a profound impact on our county,” Raye said Friday. He has requested information from DMR on the reasons for the decline in the catch.
Raye also shared his concerns with Gov. John Baldacci on Friday. He said the two agreed to meet next week to discuss the closure.
Etnier of the DMR said there are meetings ahead to discuss the problem, including one in February. A time, date and location have yet to be set.