ELLSWORTH, Maine — Smaller drag sizes, reduced daily weight limits and a “meat count” were some of the scallop fishery management ideas discussed Monday at a Scallop Advisory Council meeting at City Hall.
The advisory council, appointed by state officials to make recommendations on Maine’s scallop fishery, met with about 15 fishermen Monday night to discuss ways to help protect the abundance of scallops in state waters. Because of concerns about declining scallop stocks, the state Department of Marine Resources last year en-acted 12 closure areas, 11 of which will last for three winter scallop fishing seasons and another in Cobscook Bay that will last for two seasons.
The department and the advisory council hope to find additional measures to protect the scallop resource so that, when the closed areas are opened again in 2012, the number of scallops in Maine waters don’t get pushed back down.
Arthur Alley, a fisherman from Spruce Head, told the council he would support reducing the daily scallop catch limit for each vessel to less than 200 pounds of meat, which is the current limit. In Cobscook Bay the current daily vessel limit is 135 pounds, which he said would be a suitable limit throughout Maine.
Most fishermen at the meeting seemed to agree with Alley.
“That’s way higher than anything we’re catching,” Alley said of 135 pounds. “It’s plenty enough for a local person.”
Reducing the daily vessel limit also would help encourage responsible stewardship of the fishery by reducing the incentive for boats to travel long distances up and down the coast, according to Alley. Scallop fishermen still would be allowed to fish anywhere in Maine but are more likely to stick closer to home — where they have more interest in nourishing their local scallop stocks — if they are less likely to hit a large payday relative to their travel expenses, he said.
If the daily catch limit were reduced, it might make sense to reduce the size of the drag used to catch scallops, some fishermen at the meeting said. Fishermen still would be able to reach the smaller limit with a smaller drag, they reasoned, and less of the ocean bottom would be affected by the smaller equipment. The maximum drag size allowed in Maine now is 10 feet, 6 inches wide.
Alan Talbot of Maine Marine Patrol said that for decades he has heard complaints that some fishermen cut open scallops smaller than the minimum size. Scallops with shells smaller than 4 inches wide now must go back in the water.
But some fishermen cut open such scallops anyway, throw the small shells overboard and keep the meat, he said. If the Marine Patrol had a way to enforce a statewide meat count, such as by limiting the number of individual scallop meats that can fit into a pint-sized container, that would help protect the resource, he said.
“That’s the only way we have to enforce people cutting small scallops,” Talbot told the council. “The daily [pound] limit and a meat count, I think, would do the most for the industry.”
Togue Brawn, resource management coordinator for DMR, indicated the possibility of the season being shortened further. In the past three years, the season has been shortened from 132 days to 70 days.
Russell Bray of Deer Isle didn’t like that idea.
“There’s no sense in a shorter season,” he said. “It’s short enough as it is.”