MACHIAS, Maine — Only seven Down East scallop fishermen attended a public hearing Tuesday night to express their approval of proposed new dates for scallop fishing, closure regulations and limiting scalloping to Monday through Friday.
It was the second hearing in two days; two more will be held this week.
Togue Brawn and Laurice Churchill of the Maine Department of Marine Resources are conducting the hearings in four locations up and down the coast.
The first hearing was held in Yarmouth Monday night; the third meeting will be held at 6 tonight at State Ferry Terminal in Rockland; and the final hearing will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 12, at City Hall in Ellsworth.
Written comments will be accepted by DMR until Aug. 23.
At last night’s meeting at the University of Maine at Machias, the handful of scallop fishermen came from Steuben, Jonesport, Eastport and Cutler. They were in complete agreement with the state’s Scallop Advisory Council that the 2010-2011 scallop fishing season should run Monday through Friday, Dec. 15-March 23, with the exception of Dec. 24.
But Brawn said that while all of the four people who attended the Yarmouth hearing were divers and wanted weekend fishing for recreational purposes, the commercial fishermen Down East disagreed.
Dennis Sargent of Steuben said that the wishes of the commercial fishermen should take precedence.
“If you make 100 percent of your living off the water, those full-time fishermen should have more pull here,” he said. He said the fishery should be open only on weekdays. “I have no sympathies for the recreationists. This should be for the working men.”
There are more than 600 commercial scallop fishermen in Maine, and the majority are draggers, Brawn said.
Fisherman Ernest Kelly of Jonesport said, “I don’t want to work weekends,” while others spoke of family obligations as a reason to stay off the water on Saturday and Sunday.
“This should be for the commercial fishermen,” Scott Emery of Eastport agreed, “not for recreational fishermen who have full-time jobs.”
Other technical changes in the proposed rules for scallops included extending the Whiting and Dennys Bay area closures to 2012. The areas have been closed since 2008.
The limit of 135 pounds of scallops a day will remain.
“What is sad is that if we’d had that limit 20 years ago, we wouldn’t have this problem today,” Sargent said.
He said that at one point, 111 boats were in Gouldsboro Bay “pounding and pounding and taking up to 1,000 pounds a scallops a day.” He said that once Dennys Bay and Whiting Bay are reopened, DMR should have a careful plan in place.
Brawn said the closure will end in May 2012 and that DMR has no plan to extend it. “I thought, however, that we’d be further along with the plan to reopen,” she said. “We need plans in place to prevent the depletion of the resource.”
Fisherman Bruce Porter of Cutler said that because the closure has been in place for four years, when the grounds are reopened “the boats are sure going to come.”
Once the hearing was officially closed and the recorder turned off, the fishermen discussed other issues, including urchin closures, the size of dragging equipment and their desire to put limits on divers.
Brawn said that one idea being floated around, which has received no opposition, is to set a scallop season for December and January with a 200-pound-a-day limit and keeping the closures in place.
The season would continue in February and March but keep the closure areas open and decrease the limit to 100 pounds a day.