ELLSWORTH — For many fishermen, the end of the inshore lobster season will mean it’s time to begin rigging up the scallop drags on their boats.
Final details for the 2015-2016 Maine scallop season were approved last week by the Department of Resources (DMR) Advisory Council and adopted on Monday by the department. The seasons for scallop diving and dragging in Zone 2, which runs from roughly the middle of Western Penobscot Bay to Lubec, begin Dec. 1. Dragging in Zone 3, which includes the popular, sheltered-from-winter-weather Cobscook Bay bottom, begins the same day.
Most of the details for this season, such as closed areas, catch limits and fishing days, are the same as what was spelled out in a proposed rule circulated for public comment and at public hearings in September.
The final rule incorporates a suggestion made at one of the September hearings, DMR Marine Resource Management Coordinator Trisha Cheney said, by fishermen including Justin Boyce of Stonington. They wanted to open a section of the lower Jericho Bay area to allow easier transit of the area for draggers.
“When they transit a closure they’re supposed to stow their gear,” Cheney said. The change opens a channel on either side of Stinson Neck. Areas inside of a line from Coles Head on Whitmore Neck to Millet Island, and a line from Naskeag to Swan’s Island Head, have been opened up. In exchange, the fishermen suggested closing the “Deep Hole” area in Deer Isle’s inner harbor.
The adjusted closures will be “easier to enforce and easier for the fleet,” Cheney said. The Deep Hole area has been a productive area for spat production, so she thinks the switch will represent a net benefit for the resource. Charts illustrating the change, as well as custom local charts for any fisherman requesting them, are available from DMR.
Cheney plans a series of local outreach meetings in November to familiarize fishermen with this year’s charts and rules, but the meetings have not yet been scheduled.
The rotational management system used in Zone 2 has not been adopted by Zones 1 and 3. Fishermen there have chosen instead to limit fishing days and catch limits.
“Zone 3 took a 20-day cut to their season and a lower landings limit,” Cheney said. “While Cobscook Bay didn’t adopt rotational management, they also have a meat count, which is a way to doubly reinforce the 4-inch limit.”
With the meat count, a Marine Patrol officer may randomly select scallop meats to ensure they don’t exceed 35 meats per pound. There is also a local dredge size limit: draggers may not use dredges wider than 5 feet, 6 inches, which is smaller than the statewide limit of 10 feet, 6 inches.
Cobscook Bay, where draggers from harbors throughout the state often converge at the start of the season, has closed early each of the last several years when regulators felt the year’s harvest had reached its sustainable limit. Those emergency closures are triggered when survey and other information indicates that between 30 and 40 percent of the harvestable biomass has been removed.
“The industry would rather have everything open to start and then close as necessary,” Cheney said. “You’re not going to get a 50-day season, especially when 175 boats show up (in Cobscook Bay in early December). We’ve been trying to spread the fleet out by having the resource rebuilt elsewhere.”