ELLSWORTH — The Department of Marine Resources is proposing new rules to set the regulations and harvest season for the 2015-2016 scallop season and set rules and establish a closed area for the coming sea urchin fishery. Three public hearings are scheduled on the scallop regulations and one hearing is scheduled for the sea urchin rules.
For the 2015-2016 scallop fishing season, as in the past 2014-2015 season, there would be a statewide 15-gallon daily possession limit for scallop meats except in Cobscook Bay, where the limit would remain at 10 gallons for Zone 3.
In western Maine waters, known as Zone 1, draggers would have a 60-day season starting Dec. 15 and ending April 11, 2016. For divers, the 60-day season would start Dec. 1 and end April 15.
In Zone 2, essentially from Penobscot Bay east to Cobscook Bay, draggers would have a 70-day season starting Dec. 1 and ending April 13. For Zone 2 divers, the 70-day season would start Dec. 1 and end April 15.
Last winter, the season was 70 days in both zones, but the concerns for the scarcity of scallops throughout Zone 1 led the department and the Scallop Advisory Council to recommend a shorter season this year.
In Zone 3 — heavily fished Cobscook Bay and environs — a 50-day season for draggers would start Dec. 1 and end March 23. For divers, the 50-day season would end March 26. The proposed seasons are the same length as they were for 2014-2015.
DMR is also proposing to establish several “targeted closures” of areas in which surveys indicate that the scallop resource is depleted or in which there are high concentrations of undersized “seed” scallops and spat-producing scallops.
Most of the targeted closures are located in Zone 1, but the department would also close Moosabec Reach between Jonesport and Beal’s Island to fishing.
In addition to the targeted closures, large areas along the coast will be closed to fishing under the department’s three-year, rotational closure management system. Other “limited access areas” will be open to fishing for a limited number of days during the season.
DMR is also proposing establishment of a three-year, targeted closure of a limited area in the sea urchin fishery.
The closure is in the Cat Ledges area near Southport in southern Maine to facilitate an industry-led pilot sea urchin restoration project. The closure would expire on May 1, 2018, when the project is expected to be complete.
Despite concerns about the resource, the 2014-2015 scallop fishing season appears to have been highly successful.
Because the season includes parts of two calendar years, DMR will not report landings from the first quarter of 2015 before next February. Last December’s landings, though, were the highest for that month since mandatory landing reporting began in 2008. Landings in calendar 2014 were the highest since 2000 and the landed value was the highest in nearly 20 years.
Throughout most of the past season, fishermen earned as much as $14 per pound for their scallops.
Public hearings on the scallop rules and the urchin rule are jointly scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 15, in the DMR conference room, Marquardt Building, 32 Blossom Lane, Augusta. Additional hearings on the scallop rules are scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 16, at Ellsworth City Hall and on Thursday, Sept. 17, at the University of Maine-Machias. Both meetings are scheduled for 6 p.m.