ELLSWORTH — The Maine scallop fishing season opened on Dec. 1 and, less than two weeks later, Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher closed it down in large areas of Downeast waters.
Last week, DMR announced that, as of Sunday, scallop fishing in Gouldsboro and Dyer bays in Hancock County and Wohoa Bay, the Jonesport Reach and the department’s Inner Machias Rotational Area, all in Washington County, are done for this season. According to DMR, Keliher shut the fishery down in those areas “in order to protect Maine’s scallop resource due to the risk of unusual damage and imminent depletion.”
At a meeting in Ellsworth just days before the season opened, DMR Resource Coordinator Trisha Cheney warned that scallop populations throughout the state were extremely low. While the department agreed to industry requests to set the fishing season (except in Cobscook Bay) at 70 days, Cheney said, it was likely that fishing in some areas would be closed after only a few days of fishing.
The closure was announced after just seven days of fishing. (In most areas, fishing is allowed only four days per week, Monday through Thursday.)
With the scallop resource still in poor condition, DMR is worried that continued harvesting in the closed areas could deplete the stock in those locales beyond its ability to recover.
“Continued harvesting may damage sublegal scallops that could be caught during subsequent fishing seasons, as well as reducing the broodstock essential to a recovery,” the department wrote in an explanation of the adoption of the emergency closure rule.
According to DMR, “direct input” from both the Marine Patrol and from fishermen, it is likely that the scallop harvest in the closed areas “has likely exceeded the 30 percent (of harvestable biomass) removal target that ensures the fishery continues to rebuild.”
Continued fishing threatens future recruitment of sublegal “seed” scallops in those areas and remaining broodstock scallops that are needed for successful spawning.
In the Gouldsboro and Dyer Bays Rotational Area, Marine Patrol and sea sampling observations, as well as industry reports, indicate that the majority of fishing activity has been focused in the Gouldsboro and Dyer bays portions of this rotational area.
On opening day, it was reported that 33 boats were fishing in Gouldsboro Bay and were able to reach their daily limit of 15 gallons of scallop meats by 10 a.m. A day later, Dec. 2, 26 boats were reported in the bay, with 17 of them still fishing past 11a.m. without reaching their limit, DMR said.
On Dec. 3, the majority of the 23 boats in Gouldsboro Bay fished past noon to get their daily limit and four had moved to Dyer Bay.
Last week, the second of the season, much of the fleet shifted to Dyer Bay. On Dec. 9, according to DMR, 13 boats were fishing in Dyer Bay while just seven fished in Gouldsboro Bay.
By then, DMR determined, 15,255 pounds of scallops (or 40 percent of the available biomass of 38,000 pounds) had been landed from those areas.
In addition, high concentrations of seed and sublegal scallops were observed in both Gouldsboro and Dyer bays during DMR’s spring survey indicating that a recovery in both of these areas has begun.
Farther Downeast, in Wohoa Bay and the Jonesport Reach area, the majority of fishing activity has been focused in the Jonesport Reach and in Wohoa Bay near Tibbets Narrows portions of this rotational area.
On Dec. 1, DMR reported that 20 boats were fishing the area, with the majority reaching their daily limit by 11a.m. A day later, several boats began searching to the west, toward Tibbets Narrows, or left the area completely; most of the boats that remained continued to fish past 1 p.m. while others were not able to get their daily limit. By Dec. 3, many boats fished past 3 p.m. and did not land their limit. By Dec. 9, no boats remained fishing in the area.
“This information indicates that the majority of legal sized scallops in the area have been harvested,” the department said.