Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, August 31, 2017 and The Weekly Packet, August 31, 2017
Scallop fishery to open through lottery, new legislation
by Anne Berleant
New legislation intended to open up scallop fishing, called An Act to Implement an Owner-Operator Requirement in the Scallop and Sea Urchin Fisheries, passed House and Senate votes in the 128th Legislature and was signed into law in July.
“That was a huge win for the scallop industry,” Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries Communications Director Caroline Goddard said.
New scallop dragging licenses could be issued, at the earliest, for the 2018-19 season. How they will be issued is currently under discussion by the Department of Marine Resources.
“It’s not a foregone conclusion that there will be new licenses,” said DMR Scallop Advisory Council member Carla Guenther, who is a scientist with Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries.
A moratorium on new scallop fishing licenses was imposed in 2009 because of low landings and low participation, leaving younger fishermen and those who had let their licenses lapse on dry land.
“Guys who grew up, came of age and haven’t gotten the chance, guys who let licenses go and never thought they wouldn’t be able to get back in,” Goddard said.
When the moratorium passed, Dennis Damon, who chaired the Joint Standing Committee on Marine Resources at the time and now sits on the MCCF board, questioned how to address a new entry system. Subsequently, the legislature gave the DMR authority to come up with a plan to lift the moratorium.
Enter the owner-operator plan, which ties new licenses to owning and operating a scallop dragging boat. Beginning January 1, 2018, only a licensed scallop dragger, and family members, whose boat is named on the license may drag for scallops in Maine. Exemptions to the requirement include owner illness or disability, recorded landings in 2017, and mechanical or other failure of an owner-operator’s boat.
“There has been a lot of work by fishermen, managers, scientists, etc., to make changes [and] sacrifices to rebuild the scallop resource,” Guenther said.
Scallop landings and participation has grown since the moratorium was imposed, up from 125 active fishermen in 2009-10 to “well over 300” in 2016, Guenther said, with about a five times increase in landings and value.
The DMR reported $6.8 million in landings value, up from about $590,000 in 2009; 4.5 million whole pounds landed, up from 592,386; and a price-per-pound of $12.77, up from $7.41.
“Now more people want to get in,” Gunther said. “Whether the fishery can support this is unknown.”
The proposal is out of the SAC’s hands. The DMR will next draft a rule on entry, likely a lottery system, and open the proposal to public comment. After responding to comments, the DMR Advisory Council (not the Scallop Advisory Council) will review the rule before it goes to the legislature for approval.