ROCKPORT, Maine — Maine’s prized scallop fleet caught fewer of the shellfish for the second year in a row despite nationwide trends toward increased catch.
Maine is home to a scallop industry that operates in near-shore waters and is beloved in the culinary world. The state’s scallops have cachet in part because of how quickly fishermen are able to get freshly caught product to consumers.
But the fishermen harvested about 415,000 pounds of scallop meat in 2019, down more than 200,000 pounds from 2018. And that year was a dip from 2017, when fishermen brought nearly 800,000 pounds to land.
One of the reasons for the decline in catch might have been the state’s rotational management system, which closes off some fishing areas every year to allow young scallops to grow. The system helps protect the future of the fishery, but it can make for challenging years in the short term, said Kristan Porter, a scallop fisherman from Cutler.
“Some rotations do better than other rotations. It’s Mother Nature; it’s year to year,” Porter said. “We did have some really good years.”
Nationally, the scallop harvest grew from 33.8 million pounds in 2014 to 57.9 million pounds in 2018, the most recent year for which statistics are available. The most important scallop fishing state is Massachusetts, followed by New Jersey.
The Maine scallop fishery’s recent dip follows a period of growth that saw the industry navigate out of almost complete collapse. Fishermen harvested just over 33,000 pounds in 2005. The state then implemented new conservation measures, and the fishery rebounded in the 2010s.
The state’s industry is bound to experience fluctuations from year to year and remains much stronger than it was 15 years ago, said Jeff Nichols, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Marine Resources.
“We’re still in a lot better place than we were around 2005,” Nichols said. “We’re still seeing the success from the change in management to a rotational management.”
The fishery takes place every winter and is headed into its final days of the season in the coming weeks.