ELLSWORTH, Maine — Members of Maine’s scallop industry gave mixed reviews Tuesday to proposed rules that would establish multiple fishing zones on Maine’s coast.
The Department of Marine Resources held a public hearing at Ellsworth City Hall to solicit input from fishermen and other industry members on the new rules. It was part of a four-day swing through the state that began Monday in Machias and ends Oct. 4 in Wiscasset.
About two-dozen people, mostly fishermen, showed up at Tuesday’s meeting. Many criticized a proposal to implement rotational management along much of Maine’s coast, while others cheered provisions to open the season earlier in December.
The zone lines would be divided as follows: Zone 1 from New Hampshire to western Penobscot Bay; Zone 2 from there to the Lubec-Campobello International Border; and Zone 3 comprising Cobscook Bay and the St. Croix River.
Under the proposed plan, the fishery would remain mobile, with scallop draggers and divers heading wherever they like to fish. The zones simply allow for different management techniques in different parts of Maine, said DMR resource coordinator Trisha DeGraaf.
Most of the comments heard by DMR officials were about Zone 2. Justin Boyce, a Stonington fisherman, said a plan to establish rotational management there would leave law-abiding fishermen adrift.
The plan will eventually leave just one-third of the coastline open each year in Zone 2, while the other two-thirds recoup scallops.
“In three years, when we have just [one-third] open, there’s scallops there, but it’s not enough to sustain us,” he said. “It’ll concentrate too many boats in too small an area.”
Another fisherman said two-thirds of Zone 2 should be open each year, leaving the remainder one year to regrow.
DeGraaf said Wednesday morning that two years is necessary to regrow a thriving scallop population after a season of fishing. Scallop population grows exponentially, she said, so the return on a second year of closure is much higher than in the first year.
“If you close for one year, you’ll see some growth,” she said. “But in the second year you’ll get a lot more.”
Other portions of the proposed rules were popular, including a provision to open the season on Dec. 2, rather than later in the month. Fishermen said this opens up valuable holiday markets for their product. It also means restaurants can prepare winter menus with Maine scallops in mind.
Togue Brawn, a former DMR official who left state government to open Maine Dayboat Scallops, said the plan is crucial to boost the scallop fishery, which has seen declining catches and emergency closures in recent years. Brawn said fishermen last year were pulling just 30 or 40 pounds of scallops, way below the state limit.
“The fishery is bringing in a fraction of what it could be bringing in,” she said.
Fishermen also asked about how they’d manage to keep track of what areas were and were not closed, and how they should participate in a fishery that might send them miles away from where they normally harvest on any given year.
“I may have to leave my boat in an area where I need to fish,” said Dana Black of Stonington. “If you get a dozen lobstermen and draggers out there, what kind of poaching might happen?”
DMR is considering two options for Zone 3, one of the busiest areas for the scallop fishery. One option would be a rotational schedule similar to that proposed in Zone 2. The other option would be a limited season — 42 days instead of 64, with a 90-pound daily haul limit instead of the normal 135-pound limit.
Most of the fishermen on hand Tuesday said they favored the limited season in Cobscook Bay.
There were no comments about Zone 1, which would be managed by limited access. It will be open just one day per week in December, and two days a week for the rest of the season.
DMR officials did not respond much to the public comments. DeGraaf said that wasn’t the goal of the meetings. They were there to listen and take notes, she said. The comments will be sent to a DMR Advisory Council, who will consider the testimony and that from 19 previous meetings on Nov. 8, when they meet in Hallowell to decide on the new rules.
The deadline for submitting comments on the proposal is Monday, Oct. 15.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.