AUGUSTA – Scallop fishing season is still a long way off, but Department of Marine Resources (DMR) Commissioner George Lapointe is making sure that harvesters have plenty of time to consider where they will be able to fish come winter.
Last week, Mr. Lapointe sent the DMR Scallop Advisory Council (SAC) a memo describing seven areas along the coast that the department proposes to close to scallop fishing beginning with the 2009 season. The closures could extend for three years or longer.
The Maine scallop season opens Dec. 1 each year and extends through the following April 15. The DMR commissioner has the regulatory authority to shorten the season.
Last year, DMR initially set two 35-day scallop seasons. Concerned about a severely depleted stock of scallops in the state’s inshore waters, Mr. Lapointe announced that he would used his emergency powers to cancel the second season.
The resulting furor amongst harvesters, and the response from the governor, led to a rethinking of the department’s decision. The second fishing season remained open, but several areas were closed to scalloping during those 35 days.
In reaching a compromise on the 2008 season, Mr. Lapointe made clear that he would not set dates for the 2009 scallop season until the industry and DMR reached agreement on closing substantial areas of reasonably likely to contain productive scallop growing areas in an effort to rebuild the depleted resource. He asked the SAC to come up with recommendations as to where the closed areas should be located.
Over the past few weeks, the SAC held a series of community meetings with fishermen to get their input on potential closures. The council was scheduled to meet May 21 to consider the fishermen’s comments and come up with recommendations for Mr. Lapointe,
After a review of the comments from those meetings, May 21, Mr. Lapointe sent a list of recommend closures to the SAC. While acknowledging the genuine effort by the industry to come up with appropriate closures, Mr. Lapointe said that some of the suggestions “were obvious attempts to create closures that would have no impact on the fishery.”
Closures of that kind, Mr. Lapointe told the SAC, would not accomplish the department’s goal of speeding the recovery of the state’s scallop resource.
“Although uncertainties exist concerning what constitutes an ideal closure,” Mr. Lapointe wrote, “Closing areas in which no one currently fishes is unlikely to produce the desired result and does not pass the Department’s straight face test.”
Of the seven recommended closures, four would have a significant impact on Down East fishermen:
- Eggemoggin Reach east of the Deer Isle Bridge, western Blue Hill Bay between Naskeag Point and Southeast Harbor on Deer Isle and much of western Jericho Bay;
- around Mount Desert Island, either close Somes Sound and have the closed area extend to the south; alternatively, close Bass Harbor and have the closure extend to Swans Island and then to the southeast;
- Gouldsboro Bay inshore of a line running between Youngs Point in Corea to Dyer Point in Steuben;
- in the Jonesport-Machias area, either all of Englishman Bay and Chandler Bay (inshore of a line between Kelly Point and Cow Point) or, alternatively all of Machias Bay inshore of a line between Point of Maine to Cape Wash.
The DMR proposal does not address possible closures in Cobscook Bay. According to Mr. Lapointe, the department wants to develop a system of rotating, relatively short-term closures, perhaps one to two years, for that region.
In an earlier communication to the SAC, Mr. Lapointe suggested that shorter term closures in Cobscook Bay would allow scallops to grow to larger sizes before they were harvested. That would have the twin values of increasing the value of the scallops that were landed and increasing the likelihood that those scallops would spawn successfully.
The Scallop Advisory Council’s recommendations have now been forwarded to Mr. Lapointe.