Maine’s scallopers prepare for crowded season

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PORTLAND (AP) — Maine regulators expect a crowded scallop fishing season to begin today as the state continues working to rebuild the fishery.

Maine’s scalloping industry is on the mend after bottoming out at about 33,000 pounds in 2005. Fishermen caught more than 400,000 pounds in 2013, the most since 2000. The state has regulated the fishery by shutting down some waterways and implementing new management systems.

At the same time, the value of Maine scallops soared to more than $12 per pound in 2013 — more than triple 2004 levels. The number of harvesters in the fishery more than tripled to more than 400 between 2008 and 2013, officials have said.

The value of the scallops and the regulations could make for another crowded year on the state’s fertile scalloping grounds, said state resource management coordinator Trisha Cheney. She said the recent shutdown of Maine shrimp fishing, another cold-weather enterprise, could also motivate some fishermen to try scallops. The state licenses about 650 scallop fishermen, but many have been inactive, she said.

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“With another cancellation of the shrimp season and the really high price of scallops, there could be more of those latent licenses activated,” Cheney said.

Federal regulators shut down the commercial fishing season for northern shrimp in the Gulf of Maine for a second straight year, citing concerns about the declining population and warmer ocean temperatures

The scallop fishing season lasts until April 11. The season includes a host of waterway closures and limits on the number of fishing days and gallons of scallops per day.

It is also the first year that the state’s rotational management system in one of its three scalloping zones will be fully implemented. The system closes two-thirds of the scalloping areas in Zone 2, which ranges from Penobscot Bay to Lubec, so they can rebuild. The state will rotate which parts of Zone 2 are closed every year for another seven years, state officials have said.

State Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher has said the state will consider shutting the fishery for the year if scallops become too depleted. The state expects to at least have to cut days and close waterways, he has said.

Friendship-based scallop fisherman Jimmy Wotton said he doesn’t plan to try harvesting scallops until New Year’s Day because he anticipates a heavily crowded fishery. He described the state’s regulation as good for rebuilding the scallop population, but added that it increases competition for scallops among fishermen. He said he’ll stick with lobstering through December.

“It’s the right way to go to rebound the resource, but it makes it hard to make a living,” Wotton said.

Maine’s sea scallop fishery is the sixth-most productive in the U.S., National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data states. The Massachusetts sea scallop fishery is by far the largest at more than 29.2 million pounds in 2013, with New Jersey second at more than 5.6 million.

Maine scallops are prized because of their sweet meat, and the scallops harvested by divers can fetch a particularly high price at restaurants.

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