December 2012 Update: The 2012/2013 season has opened, and most agree the closed areas are a success. Guys are getting their daily limit (20 gallons) before 10:00 am in many areas, this in contrast to last year when guys fished all day for just a few gallons in many areas. I’ll update this management section in the near future, but at the moment I’m too busy buying and promoting Maine’s scallops, so for now I’ll just direct you to the DMR webpage, which has a press release about recent management changes with a link to an exhaustive description at the bottom: http://www.maine.gov/dmr/PressRelease.htm
September 2012 Update: Public hearings will be held in early October to discuss proposed rules for the upcoming scallop season. Please review the rules and either attend or submit comments in writing. This season will be an incredibly important one, as it’s the first one fishermen will be able to access the closed areas. There will be an abundance of large scallops within them, but it’s critical that managers are able to prevent overharvesting. We’ve made a lot of progress. Let’s make sure this increased biomass is just the start of a full-scale recovery rather than a one-year gold rush.
January 2012 Management Update:
Late last week, the Department of Marine Resources issued an emergency regulation to close parts of Cobscook Bay due to an abundance of seed and a lack of legal-sized adults. While this closure will present economic hardship to fishermen this year, the foresight and strength of Commissioner Keliher and Governor Le Page will yield great profits in the long term. For more information, please see the links page.
Management Past, Present and Future:
In the past four years, dramatic changes were made to Maine’s scallop fishery management plan. The cornerstone of these improvements is a series of three year conservation areas that close almost 20% of Maine state waters to scallop fishing.
Maine scallop fishermen have made significant sacrifices to ensure a sustainable future. Following is a list of changes implemented since the fall of 2007:
- Mandatory harvester and dealer reporting
- Entry to the commercial fishery closed
- Ring size increased to 4 inches
- Season reduced from 132 days to 70 days
- Large (19% of coastal waters) three-year conservation closures established
- Statewide commercial limit of 200 pounds established (135 pound limit in Cobscook Bay)
- License holders required to be on board the vessel while fishing for scallops
- Recreational limit reduced to 2 quarts
- Research surcharge added to recreational licenses (surcharge had already been present on commercial licenses)
- Fines for scallop violations increased to $500 for first offense
- Mandatory $1000 fine established for fishing in a closed area, license suspended and additional fine on second offense.
Fishermen and the Maine Department of Marine Resources are currently focusing on developing a sustainable way to reopen the closed areas.
Maine fishermen have fished commercially for sea scallops (Placopecten magellanicus) since the mid 1880s. Drags (dredges and rock drags, both referred to as “drags” are used in Maine) were towed by boats under sail before the advent of diesel engines (Wallace 2000). Divers began harvesting scallops in the 1970s and ‘80s. In 2010, there were 718 commercial scallop licenses issued in Maine (607 drag, 111 dive).
The sea scallop has been characterized by irregular abundance in most areas of the coast, which is probably the result of biological and environmental factors (Schick, Feindel 2005). This variability has tended to generate cyclic fisheries in which the discovery of a large population of harvestable scallops has led to a rapid expansion of the fishery and subsequent depletion of the stock in that area (Schick, Feindel 2005).
Maine’s inshore scallop resource once supported a multi-million dollar fishery, but landings have steadily decreased to less than 10% of historic levels (see chart). Although dramatic changes in abundance are typical of scallop populations around the world, it is generally accepted, even among Maine’s scallop fishermen, that fishing pressure is at least partly responsible for the current low abundance.
A precipitous decline and prolonged lack of recovery prompted the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) to decide in the autumn of 2007 that management change was necessary. For decades, scallops had been managed primarily through minimum shell height, maximum dredge or drag size and season regulations. These minimal measures had not prevented decline, and DMR believed they were not likely to bring about a recovery. Working with the Scallop Advisory Council (SAC), an industry group that advises DMR on matters pertaining to the scallop fishery, DMR initiated a series of changes that would dramatically alter management of Maine’s in-shore scallop fishery.
The first change came in the spring of 2008 with the implementation of limited entry to the commercial fishery. After this accomplishment, DMR challenged the SAC to generate a comprehensive plan suited to Maine’s fishery. Frequency of, attendance at and controversy surrounding SAC meetings soared as various options were debated. Three management options rose to the top: a reduced season, a daily limit, and the implementation of conservation closed areas. A reduced season (from 132 to 70 days) and daily limit (200 pounds) were established in the summer of 2008. But the development of conservation closures would take far more time. After two years of work, a deal was finally struck. The result was a series of ten three-year conservation closures, totaling 573 square miles or representing almost 20% of Maine’s territorial waters. These closures are due to reopen prior to the 2012/2013 fishing season.
Since the closures were established, the SAC and DMR have focused their efforts on designing a plan to harvest them sustainably. DMR, the SAC and industry wish to parlay the significant time and effort that went into these closed areas into long-term benefits for the fishery. Most fishermen and DMR agree that if the closed areas were opened up without additional management, they would quickly be depleted (discussion from 2010 industry meetings).
The 2010 annual drag survey showed that harvestable biomass in the Whiting Bay/Denny’s Bay Closed area increased by over 400% since the closure.