Scallop diver Andy Mays cuts out the innards of a scallop on his boat Lost Airmen in Southwest Harbor in this March 7, 2017 file photo. Maine fishery officials this week held a lottery and picked four people who will be the first new fishermen allowed in the lucrative fishery since 2009. Credit: Bill Trotter

The state has chosen four fishermen from eastern Maine from almost 1,300 applicants who sought the first new scallop fishing licenses to be issued in Maine in the past nine years.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources held a lottery this week to determine who among the nearly 1,300 applicants would be allowed into the lucrative scallop fishery this coming winter.

The names of Matthew Alley of Beals Island, Chase Fitzsimmons of Lubec, Johnathon Oliver of Deer Isle and Frank Gott of Bar Harbor were drawn from the pool. Each of them has 30 days to submit formal paperwork to the department to get his license, DMR officials wrote in a release.

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The lottery was devised last winter as part of a system to allow new people into the fishery while still limiting the number of licenses issued by the state. Only people 18 or older who previously have been licensed to fish scallops (and who don’t currently have a license) or who have worked on the crew of a commercial scallop boat are allowed to participate in the annual lottery.

The 2018-19 scallop fishing season is expected to get under way in the next few weeks and to run until early next spring.

The state stopped issuing new scallop fishing licenses nine years ago when stocks were declining and the state’s annual scallop season was in danger of being canceled. A new fishery management scheme the state developed and implemented since then has helped stocks recover, while demand has pushed the price of scallops to historic highs.

[Maine weighs lottery to issue first new scallop licenses since 2009]

The yearly volume of scallop meat harvested in Maine has increased tenfold since 2009, from just shy of 79,000 pounds to 793,000 pounds in 2017. Over that same time period, the value of statewide scallop landings has grown from less than $600,000 to $9.3 million.

The freeze on new licenses, however, has prevented younger people from getting into the fishery, pushing the average age of scallop fishermen up to 51 years. To address this issue, the Legislature passed a bill last year requiring the department to establish a limited entry system into the fishery.

After consulting with the Scallop Advisory Council, DMR adopted a system by which it issues two new scallop dragger licenses for every three licenses that are not renewed, which will reduce the number of dragger boats in the fishery while simultaneously allowing new people to get licenses.

[Record prices help buoy Maine scallop fishery]

The new entry system was designed to guarantee that younger fishermen could get licenses. For every two new dragger licenses that are issued, one will go to someone between the ages of 18 and 30, while the second will be awarded to someone 31 years of age or older. Of the licenses that will be issued as a result of this week’s lottery, two are going to younger fishermen and two are going to older fishermen.

Because nearly 90 percent of the roughly 630 licensed scallop fishermen in Maine drag for the shellfish with nets by boat, the state is more keen to reduce the number of dragger fishermen than it is to cut back on the number of people with diver licenses who collect scallops underwater by hand. With the new limited entry system, the state will issue one new diver license via lottery for each diver license that is not renewed.

All of the diver licenses DMR issued last year were renewed for the 2018-19 scallop season, however, so the state held no lottery to issue new diver licenses. All four of the new licensees picked this week will receive dragger licenses.

Of the 1,290 people who applied to participate in the lottery, 401 were in the 18-30 category and 889 were in the 31-and-older category.

Bill Trotter

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....