At the end of a day of fishing, the drag is stowed on David Horner’s Luke and Grace and three 5-gallon buckets of scallops — the daily limit allowed to harvesters — are ready to go ashore to waiting buyers in Southwest Harbor. HOLLY MASTERSON PHOTO

Good scallop season may be bound for a change

STONINGTON — Maine’s scallop season got off to a good start last month, with supplies plentiful and a strong price, but that may be about to change.

Early on, according to Melissa Smith, the scallop resource manager at the Department of Marine Resources, along most of the coast between Penobscot Bay and Cobscook Bay landings varied were “variable depending on the location.”

Scallop meat sizes also ranged from quite large to relatively small depending on where they were brought up, “as is the norm for any fishing year.”

Harvesters were generally able to get their daily limits — three 5-gallon buckets or about 135 pounds of shucked scallop meats — by the early afternoon or even earlier.

In Cobcook Bay, Smith said, by the middle of December it was taking harvesters longer to get their limit — two buckets or about 90 pounds daily — than when the season opened on Dec. 4, and scallop meats were “a little smaller than at the beginning of the season.”

A bucket of prime scallop meats — about 45 pounds — can fetch $450 or more landed at the wharf.

Until recently, according to one Downeast scallop buyer, dealers were paying harvesters a boat price of $8.75 per pound for small scallops, between 20 and 30 to the pound, and $10.75 per pound for larger scallops, with a count of 10 to 20 per pound.

Stonington scallop buyer Joshua Buxton said Monday that the top prices he had heard about were between $12.25 and nearly $14 per pound, but that some harvesters were selling scallops directly “off the truck” for as little as $10.50 per pound.

“It’s kind of sad to think about it,” he said.

Part of the problem for harvesters is that the weather has been generally good, “mild and not very blowy,” since the start of the fishing season, Buxton said. While that makes it easier to get out to fish on the days when harvesting is allowed, it also means that there has been an abundance of scallops, and that can depress prices.

According to the Downeast dealer, that abundance — or overabundance — is about to increase.

On Tuesday, he said, fresh Canadian scallops were about to come on the market in Boston. That could knock the price Maine harvesters get for smaller scallops, 20-30 per pound, down to $8, he said.

With the weather as amenable as it has been, DMR has imposed emergency closures in three areas otherwise open to fishing under the state’s rotational area fishery management plan for scallops.

Gouldsboro and Dyers bays were closed shortly after the season opened. Machias and Little Machias bays were closed late last month and an area west of Vinalhaven was closed this week.

That was probably a good idea if Portland scallop buyer and former DMR resource manager Togue Brawn is on the right track.

“I’ve bought some gorgeous stuff (scallops) from several areas, but this is definitely going to be a ‘lean’ year in terms of the rotation,” Brawn said in a recent email. While harvesters are likely “to gripe when the state closes areas,” she said, “I applaud all closures the state puts in. It is always better to err on the side of caution.”

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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