Aprons, club sticks and ring bags

Editor’s note: Brooklin author/photographer Richard J. Leighton creates the popular “In the Right Place” posts online about life and nature in Maine. He shares a post the second Thursday of each month in The Ellsworth American.


By Richard Leighton

It’s mid-winter, when most of our coastal water lobster boats have brought in their traps and are taking vacations “on the hard.” But not all of them. Some boats undergo a maritime metamorphosis: they develop wings in the form of masts and booms and become scallop boats that fish in the cold.

Most of these winter fishing vessels drag with scallop dredges, which are ingenious metal-and-twine-mesh contraptions. They scrape the bottom for scallops, but have escape routes for fish and openings for removal of the mollusks.

The dredging equipment has exotic terminology, including an apron, skirt, club stick, shoes, rock chains, sweep chain, ring bag, and chaffing gear. Some vessels also are platforms for air tank divers who hand-harvest the most prized (and expensive) of the delicious mollusks — diver scallops.

Scallop fishing has been highly regulated in Maine waters since the shellfish dropped to nearly-endangered levels in the mid-2000s. The season is scheduled for 50, 60 or 70 days, depending on the zone. Those fishing days are spread over a few days each month from December into April, with some additional November dates available for diving.

The daily limit is 15 gallons (shucked on board) per licensed fisherman. However, the harvest is monitored and may be further restricted for conservation purposes at any time.

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