ELLSWORTH – Maine’s Department of Marine Resources took public comments from local scallop harvesters ahead of this season’s December 1st start date.
Scallop fishermen talked about issues such as the timing of the season itself, and current restrictions. This is part of an annual process as the upcoming season’s rules and regulations are finalized.
Wednesday’s public hearing at Ellsworth City Hall was the third and final hearing held across the state. Two hearings were held earlier this week in Augusta and Machias.
“It just gives harvesters an additional chance to just talk about ideas,” said Melissa Smith, with the Department of Marine Resources, “or talk about what has worked well for them in the past versus what might work better in the future.”
Officials said the main issue is always the season’s calendar itself.
For state waters, the season goes from December until March or April, depending on whether you’re a dive or drag license holder. Dive license holders physically dive into the water to get their catch, while drag license holders use equipment. Some want to see their fishing days moved earlier in the season than currently proposed.
“To compete fairly in this dirty fishery, I would like to see days at sea from Tuesday, Wednesday in March and April, moved to Wednesdays in January, February,” said Tim Robinson, a Blue Hill Bay diver. “This would pretty much even it up.”
The Department of Marine Resources is also proposing to remove a provision that caps the vessel limit of dive harvested scallops to 30 gallons when two or more licensed scallop divers are using the same platform. Local opinion on that proposed change was mixed.
Another possible rule change the state is looking for input on has to do with drag size gear restrictions. Some areas, like Gouldsboro Bay have decreased drag size allowances. The state maximum is 10’6″ for drag gear size, but Gouldsboro Bay currently is restricted to 4’6″. Smith said these allowances were put in place decades ago for gear conflict issues or to protect a vulnerable habitat area. The Department of Marine Resources has proposed to remove that restriction, as well as similar restrictions in the Kittery area and Swan’s Island Conservation.
Smith said based on the data officials have, last season went well. And to see this season go smoothly, some fishermen said they’re in favor of the proposal to reduce regulation.
“Especially in light of the age of the fishermen, the people that are doing it now, it gets harder every year,” said David Tarr, a scallop diver and dragger, “so I’m happy with the way you’ve got it written up.”
Now that the public hearings are over, written comment can be submitted until September 24th. The Department of Marine Resources will take that comment into consideration, and Smith said they hope to have everything finalized by the middle of November.