MACHIAS, Maine — State officials will take emergency measures to close two more areas to scallop fishing, they announced Thursday.
An emergency rulemaking by the Department of Marine Resources will close the Machias Bay Limited Access Area and the Sheepscot River, effective Saturday.
The scallop fishing season for zones 1 and 2 will remain at five days per week with a daily limit of 15 gallons.
The Machias Bay Limited Access Area includes Machias Bay and Little Machias Bay, waters roughly between Machiasport and Cutler and above Cross Island. The closing of the Sheepscot River applies essentially to the lower portion.
The closings are necessary “due to the risk of unusual damage and imminent depletion,” the agency said in its emergency rulemaking announcement. “Scallop populations throughout the state are at extremely low levels.”
Continued harvesting may damage scallops that are not yet legal size and reduce broodstock needed for recovery, according to DMR.
The Machias waters have been depleted of the majority of scallops that are legal size, according to DMR, which bases its action on sea sampling observations and Marine Patrol feedback. About 85 boats have been fishing in the area, and, until the last few days, most have been able to catch their daily limit in a few hours. In the last two days, however, only a small number of boats have been able to reach the 15-gallon daily limit, and many have landed only 5 gallons. “This indicates the majority of the legal-sized scallops in this area have been harvested,” the agency concluded. In addition, a 2013 spring survey indicated that 49 percent of scallops in the area were under the legal size.
The Machias area was subjected to heavy fishing pressure last season and was closed by emergency action in early February 2013.
The lower Sheepscot River also has been heavily fished since the beginning of the season, the agency said, and a larger proportion of sublegal scallops have been observed by industry and Marine Patrol. They require protection in order to reach legal size.