ELLSWORTH, Maine — When and where scallop fishermen will be able to fish this winter has not yet been determined, but the state’s scallop advisory council took steps toward a final decision Wednesday when it met at City Hall.
Only six of the council’s 13 members attended, which meant the board could not take an official vote on recommending what sort of season and closures the Maine Department of Marine Resources should adopt. The six members discussed the issues anyway with hopes of having other members weigh in before the public comment period on the proposals ends at 5 p.m. Monday, Aug. 3.
Where and how many days scallop fishing will be allowed became a hotly contested issue last winter after declining scallop stocks prompted DMR officials to consider canceling the winter scallop season altogether. After an outcry from fishermen, and several emergency meetings, the state decided instead to limit scallop fishing to 70 days and to enact emergency closures in several areas along the coast.
Council members at Wednesday’s meeting had different ideas about how many days each week they should be able to fish. But they seemed to share the opinion that, unlike last winter, the 70-day season should not be split into two 35-day blocks.
Ernest Kelley Jr. of Jonesport, a member of the council, proposed allowing fishing Tuesday through Friday, starting Jan. 1, 2010, until the 70-day limit is reached.
Others didn’t like the idea, however. Some licensed fishermen, commercial and recreational, have other jobs and should be able to fish on weekends, they said.
“I like the longer spread,” Andy Mays, a Southwest Harbor scallop diver and a member of the council, said of stretching out the season over most of the winter months. “But I wouldn’t support it without having a weekend day [on the list of allowed fishing days].”
Fisherman Jim Ackley of Machias presented the council with a petition signed by 120 people, 55 of whom are state scallop license holders, requesting that scallop fishing be allowed Tuesday through Friday, Dec. 1 to March 31. Ackley agreed with Kelley, saying that people who get their primary income from fishing should be allowed to fish during the week and have weekends off.
In a straw poll, five members of the council supported allowing scallop fishing on a weekend day to allow fishermen with other jobs to fish on weekends.
The council also discussed whether it would be better to start the season in December or in January. Some members of the council and others at the meeting favored starting the season in December because of the higher prices and demand that precede Christmas; others expressed concern that there might be too many conflicts with lobster gear in December, when many lobstermen still have traps in the water.
In the end, five council members tenuously endorsed the compromise plan of allowing scallop fishing five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, Dec. 15 and running through March 20. Kelley was the only council member at the meeting to oppose the idea.
Togue Brawn, resource management coordinator for DMR, said Thursday that after reviewing the math, such a plan would allow fishing only until early March. She said council members would reconsider the idea and possibly make another recommendation to the state by the end of Monday.
The council also made slight suggestions Wednesday for changes to three of the eight proposed closures along the coast between Casco and Machias bays, which are expected to be in effect for the next three years. A final decision on the days of the season and the closure areas is expected to be made Sept. 16 when the DMR advisory council meets in Hallowell or Augusta, according to Brawn.
More information about management of the scallop fishery is available at the DMR Web site, at www.maine.gov/dmr/rm/scallops/index.htm.