ELLSWORTH — In an emergency measure, officials have closed down all of Cobscook Bay and the Saint Croix River to scallop fishing for the rest of the season, as well as five other smaller areas spread out along the coast.
Maine Department of Marine Resources also has decided to add Wednesday to the days of the week during which scallop fishing is not allowed in the waters around the Muscle Ridge Islands off South Thomaston. Fishing in the Muscle Ridge area still is allowed on other days of the week, depending on variables such as the month and fishing method.
Areas outside of Zone 3, which is comprised of Cobscook Bay and the Saint Croix River, that have been closed for the remainder of the season include the Damariscotta River, Muscongus Bay, Somes Sound, Gouldsboro Bay and waters between Great Wass Island in Beals and Moose Neck in Addison.
The closures went into effect on Saturday, Feb. 8 and are being implemented to protect scallop stocks in the affected areas, DMR announced Friday. Fishing in Zones 1 and 2, from the New Hampshire border to the Lubec-Campobello Bridge, remains limited to five days a week and to 15 gallons a day per licensed fisherman. Maine’s scallop season is scheduled to end on March 20.
“The department is concerned that further unrestricted harvesting during the remainder of the 2013-14 fishing season in these areas may deplete a severely diminished resource beyond its ability to recover,” DMR officials said in a prepared statement. “This is based upon industry feedback, sea & port sampling observations, Marine Patrol observations and available survey data.”
Spot closures of scalloping areas along Maine’s coast, including six announced last month, have been fairly routine in recent years as the state has adopted new scallop fishery management measures. The new approach has been prompted by declining stocks in Maine’s coastal waters, which nearly resulted in much of the 2009 season being canceled.
Despite the increased restrictions, scallop fishermen are getting record high prices for their catch, both for scallops caught in coastal Maine waters and for those caught offshore on Georges Bank. Many fishermen have been getting around $13 per pound this season, according to published reports. With a daily limit of 15 gallons, which roughly translates to 135 pounds, fishermen that catch their daily limit would earn more than $1,700 per day, before expenses.