Scallop Feedback Wrapped Into New Season

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Public feedback led the council to move all April fishing days into the month of December. The New Bedford fleet opens up April 1st this year and that’s when the price drops.Chessie Crowe Gartmayer photo

Lucas Johnson of Cutler said that he’d like to see the state and federal governments step in and assert sovereignty over Machias Seal Island, which has been mired in controversy for decades because both the U.S. and Canada claim ownership. “It shouldn’t be written down that we can’t go there, that’s just giving it to [Canada],” he said. “They’re there day and night for four months.”

Franklin Smith of Jonesport echoed the sentiments of many in the room when he said that he would prefer to see the waters around Machias Seal Island opened fully in March, not December. “I think December is a poor choice of months, due to the amount of gear there at that time,” he said. Because Machias Seal Island sits in zone 2, boats have access on regular fishing days.

Ultimately, the Scallop Advisory Council voted to move the Machias Seal Island opening from Dec. 2017 to March 2018 during their meeting held on Nov. 8.

Mike Murphy of Machiasport sits on the council and said he believes the fleet should have been given access seven days a week for the entire season, not just one month.

“In December you have gear conflict, but in March we’re not going to get much out there because that’s the windy month.” He believes the fishing pressure would be minimal due to the distance, and because most boats aren’t stocked with the safety gear required to cross federal waters en route to the island.

According to DMR Communications Director Jeff Nichols, public feedback also led the council to move all April fishing days into the month of December. Murphy applauded the move. “The New Bedford fleet — the largest scallop fleet in the world — opens up April 1 this year,” he said, “and that’s when we’ll lose the price.”

One topic not discussed at the Machias public hearing was the question of changing the diver possession limit from a per vessel to per individual for scallop divers. At the council meeting, the DMR proposed letting one boat carry multiple divers, something Murphy said “completely goes against the concept of owner-operator.”

After a heated dialogue, the council approved a compromise: each individual is allowed to meet their maximum limit, not to exceed the harvest limit for two divers. This means six buckets in zones 1 and 2, and four buckets in zone 3.

New licenses

Maine has not issued new scallop licenses since 2009, but this year the DMR started the process of creating a limited entry license lottery.

Gilbert explained that the DMR modeled the scallop limited entry proposal on the lobster fishery, which uses an exit ratio to determine how many new licenses can be issued. The DMR proposes issuing two new scallop licenses for every three that are retired.

The two licenses will be distributed by lottery — one to someone between the ages of 18 and 31, and the other to someone over 31. The proposed exit ratio for the less-saturated scallop diving fishery is 1:1.

“There’s a lot of interest out there, and if we model it after how we do it in the lobster industry... it could be half a dozen [new licenses] a year,” said Gilbert. “We need to create some opportunity in this fishery.”

Individuals eligible to apply for the lottery would receive additional draws for other criteria, a strategy Gilbert said was designed to improve the chances of people invested in the fishery.

The additional draws provoked some heated conversation, especially proposed draws given for each year an applicant had crewed onboard an active commercial vessel. How, attendees asked, could the DMR verify the truth of those claims?

Ultimately, the DMR reduced the number of criteria for extra draws in the drag lottery to just two: being a primary crew member onboard an active commercial scallop drag vessel, and/ or having previously held a Maine commercial scallop license.

For divers, extra lottery draws will be given for being a primary crew tender for an active commercial scallop driver, and / or having previously held a Maine commercial scallop dive license.

Frank Smith, a lobster fisherman and scallop dragger, said he supported adding new licenses. “I think the three to two ratio is an excellent idea,” he said. “I understand people’s concern, but the average age of your scallop dragger is fairly high and at some point we need to let new people in.”

Jimmy Ackley of Machias also supported the ratio. “I think everybody deserves a chance,” he said. “Hopefully this will get some of them into it who will appreciate the industry.”

Togue Brawn is a scallop dealer and former scallop resource manager for the DMR. “Basically, anytime you talk about limited entry, it’s very controversial,” she said. The question is whether the state wants a scallop fishery that can support a lot of people part-time, she said, or fewer people full-time.

“I think what the department has suggested does a good job of finding that balance,” said Brawn.

There are roughly 525 current scallop drag licenses issued, of which approximately 350 are active.

However, the limited entry proposal will need the approval of the legislature in order to become a rule. Rep. Will Tuell (R-E. Machias) sits on the marine resources committee, and said he believes it will be 2019-20 before the lottery is implemented. “I believe we are waiting to see how owner operator shakes out,” he said, “and there’s a two-year phase in on that.”

Owner-operator regulations on the scallop fleet were enacted in April 2017, and give fishermen two years to make their businesses compliant. Tuell said that the process could result in some license attrition, making a little more room in the fishery.

The DMR will submit the lottery proposal to the legislature, which convenes again in January. The Marine Resources Committee will take comments during a public hearing to be scheduled in the new year.

2017-2018 pdfScallop Calendars; Links to area maps.