ELLSWORTH — Due to declines in the number of harvestable scallops, the Maine Department of Marine Resources has closed three more fishing areas along the coast.
In a statement released Friday evening, the department indicated it was immediately closing scallop fishing grounds at the mouth of the Damariscotta River, in Somes Sound and around Greenings Island off Mount Desert Island, and in Gouldsboro and Dyer bays off Gouldsboro and Steuben.
With the exception of Dyer Bay, just west of Petit Manan Point, all the closed bays have been part of limited access areas that DMR established last fall as part of a new management scheme for the scallop fishery. New DMR rules enacted for this year allow the department to close such areas immediately when 30 to 40 percent of the harvestable biomass is believed to have been removed during the season.
The areas are being closed “to protect against unusual damage and imminent depletion” of scallops in those areas,” according to DMR officials.
Last month, DMR closed the inner harbor in Blue Hill one week into the season and then,
on Dec. 22, closed three more areas — in Muscongus Bay, off Deer Isle, and in Moosabec Reach off Jonesport. The reasons for these closures were the same as those announced Friday.
This winter’s scallop season began Dec. 2 and is expected to run until March 20. This winter, for the first time, three scallop zones have been established along the coast, each with a different combination of harvest rules. Any licensed Maine scallop fisherman can fish in each of the three zones.
Before 2009, there were no closed scallop fishing areas along Maine’s coast, but declining stocks then prompted state officials to take action. The state closed a dozen areas along the coast to scallop fishing for three years, with those closures expiring last spring.
For this season, those closures have been turned into limited access areas, where fishing is being allowed only one or two days a week. In addition, nine new areas along the coast between Casco and Chandler bays are closed just for the 2012-2013 season.
The annual harvest of scallops in Maine peaked at 3.8 million pounds of meat in 1981 but since then has declined to less than 200,000 pounds per year.