ELLSWORTH, Maine — There likely will have to be additional management measures of some kind placed upon Maine’s scallop fishery before closed areas are reopened to scallop harvesting, the state’s Scallop Advisory Council was told Thursday.
If the council members need time to arrive at a consensus on what the additional regulations should be, they will have it. The closures, which were set last month along with the 2009-2010 season dates, won’t expire until the final weeks of 2012.
Judging by the different opinions that were expressed at the council meeting, arriving at a consensus may not be easy. The state is considering enacting a pilot program for Cobscook Bay, where Dennys and Whiting bays are expected to be closed to scallop fishing until late 2011, but ideas on what that pilot program might entail elicited some negative reactions from council members.
Chief among the ideas they did not like was adding a $200 surcharge to the license fees of anyone from anywhere in Maine who might get approval to fish scallops in Cobscook Bay. Members of the council had concerns about what the $200 surcharge might be used for and about adding to the permitting expenses for fishermen.
“It’s well over a grand,” Andy Mays, a council member from Southwest Harbor, said of the total cost of getting various commercial fishing permits. “These surcharges are getting out of hand.”
Togue Brawn of the Maine Department of Marine Resources told the council that she and DMR Commissioner George Lapointe met recently with members of the Cobscook Bay Fishermen’s Association to discuss what kind of added management measures might be appropriate for the bay.
“The guys there want to have some sort of advantage” for local fishermen to access the bay, Brawn said.
The department does not favor restricting access to any scalloping areas to local fishermen, either by a zone management system similar to what the lobster industry uses or by any other form, she said.
Deer Isle fisherman Russell Bray, who said he favored a zone management system for scallops, urged the council to call for giving the closures a chance to work before recommending any other measures.
“We don’t need any more surcharges,” Bray said.
John “Doug” Wood, a scallop advisory council member from Machiasport, was critical of the idea of letting only Cobscook Bay residents fish for scallops in Cobscook Bay. Unlike lobstermen, scallop fishermen in Maine traditionally have traveled long distances along the coast in order to fish for scallops, he said.
“There’s nothing in [the proposal for Cobscook Bay] to protect the fishery,” Wood said. “It’s for preferential rights. This is socialism in its purest form.”
Dana Temple, chairman of the council, said that too much work has been done over the past two years — during which the season length has been reduced from 132 days to 70 and temporary emergency closures have been enacted — not to make sure that there are adequate measures in place to protect the long-term viability of the scallop fishery. The second half of the 2008-2009 season was nearly canceled because of the state’s concerns about depleted scallop stocks.
“We’ve got to make sure boats don’t go back in there and beat [productive scallop beds] to death again,” Temple said. “I don’t want to realize 3½ years from now that we are right back where we started from.”
State Sen. Dennis Damon, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee, attended the council meeting. He told the council that state legislators won’t go along with new management proposals if there is not an indication that they will help conserve the resource.
“It won’t work if legislators think you’re going to go right back in and clean it out,” Damon said of the scallop beds. “You’ve got to be able to manage it.”
Besides improved monitoring of the resource, other possible management measures mentioned at the council meeting include permanent closure of areas that could act as scallop nurseries, lower catch limits, and restricting or banning other types of fishing in areas closed to scallop harvesting.