ELLSWORTH – More scalloping or more scallopers? That’s the question the Department of Marine Resources is facing with a proposed rule that would establish a lottery system for new scallop fishing licenses.
Under a plan announced last week, DMR would issue annually two new scallop dragging licenses for every three surrendered. The department would also issue one new diving license for each one not renewed.
Currently, there are about 635 outstanding licenses to fish for scallops in Maine waters, about 560 for draggers, the balance for divers. Of those, about 450 were actively fished last year.
No new licenses have been issued since 2009. According to DMR, the average age of scallop licenses holders is about 51.
Scallop landings have grown from just under 666,000 pounds worth about $592,000 eight years ago to nearly 4.5 million pounds worth some $6.9 million in 2016. In recent years, DMR has set a nominal 70-day fishing season along most of the Downeast coast (50 days in Cobscook Bay), but closed the season before the announced end date, reducing the number of days scallopers are able to fish. The department has also imposed “emergency” closures in several areas during the season.
DMR justifies the closures as a way to prevent scallops from being overfished.
Before publishing the lottery rule, which must still be approved or modified by the Legislature, DMR held a round of hearings on the lottery idea at which scallop fishermen voiced the dilemma facing their industry: if the scallop resource still needs protection from overfishing, why issue more licenses? But if no new licenses are issued, how do young fishermen, or fishermen who gave up scallop licenses in the past but want one now, get into the fishery?
Lottery applications would be limited to Maine residents at least 18 years old who hold a Maine commercial fishing license that has not been suspended for at least seven years or who has served as crew on an active scallop boat.
Every applicant would be entitled to at least one chance in the lottery. Each dragger and dive license applicant would also qualify for additional chances based on the number of years they took part in the fishery since 2009 and the number of years between 1995 and 2009 that they held scallop fishing licenses.