AUGUSTA — The Department of Marine Resources in-season surveys conducted on Jan. 7 and 8, in specific scallop-fishing regions observed significant declines in scallop biomass densities, according to a Jan. 14 news release.They also determined that seed scallops were being illegally taken.
“An immediate conservation closure is necessary to reduce the risk of unusual damage and imminent depletion of the scallop resource in the Vinalhaven and Fox Island Thorofare and the Whiting and Dennys Bays,” said the DMR.
Therefore, DMR is adopting emergency regulations to close these areas Saturday, Jan. 16. In addition, a correction to the South Portland Harbor Targeted Closure will also be included to ensure enforceability of this area.
Vinalhaven and Fox Island Thorofare
In the Lower Penobscot Bay and Outer Islands Rotational Area, Marine Patrol, sea sampling, in-season surveys and direct industry reports indicate that the majority of fishing activity has been focused in the Fox Island Thorofare and around the inshore islands (Leadbetter, Hurricane, and Greens Islands) west and southwest of Vinalhaven.
Strong catches were reported during the first three weeks of the season, with upward of 20 vessels fishing and easily able to reach their daily landings limit by as early as 10 a.m. However, over the following weeks, Catch per unit effort decreased with vessels taking the majority of the day to reach their daily landings limit and the fleet began working in more exposed areas outside of the sheltered islands, indicating that the majority of legal sized scallops had been harvested from these areas.
These observations were confirmed independently in the DMR in-season surveys.
On Dec. 11, after seven days of harvest, the in-season survey observed a 1.92 g/m3 biomass density estimate, reflecting a decrease of 12 percent from the original projected estimate at the start of the fishery on Dec. 1.
On Jan. 8, after 21 days of harvest, a biomass density estimate of 0.78 g/m3 was observed, a significant decline of 64 percent, thus exceeding the target harvest threshold for this area.
Additionally, numerous newly cut/harvested sublegal scallops shells were observed in the survey tows indicating the illegal harvest of seed scallops.
Therefore, a targeted conservation closure of the inshore area west of Vinalhaven and the Fox Island Thorofare is necessary to protect the remaining seed so that it may recruit up to the fishery in future seasons and legal, broodstock scallops that are needed for continued spawning and rebuilding of the fishery in this area.
The outer portion of the Lower Penobscot Bay and Outer Islands Rotational Area will remain open for continued harvesting opportunities.
Whiting and Dennys Bays
In the Whiting and Dennys Bays Limited Access Area, Marine Patrol observations, port sampling, in-season surveys and direct industry reports indicated that harvest target for this area has been met. DMR staff conducted fishery independent surveys of the area in late October, and in-season surveys on Dec. 17 and 18, and Jan. 7 and 8, to monitor changes in scallop biomass density as the fishery progressed.
The original biomass density estimate observed in October was 3.73 g/m3. During the first two weeks of harvest only 22 vessels were observed fishing the area and on the third week the number increased to 31.
During the first in-season survey, DMR staff observed little to no significant decrease in observable biomass density estimates (3.64 g/m3 or 2.4 percent decrease) in the area after three weeks of fishing by both divers and draggers.
On Dec. 30 and Jan. 6, 42 vessels were observed fishing the area while six divers have been consistently harvesting the area each week since the area opened. During the Jan. 7 and 8 survey, a significant decline was observed, with biomass density estimates at 2.39 g/m3, a 36 percent decrease.
In addition, the area was available for harvest on Jan. 13 for draggers and Jan. 15 for divers, therefore exceeding the upper limit of the trigger threshold. Therefore, an immediate conservation closure of the Whiting and Dennys Bays Limited Access Area is necessary to protect remaining legal sized broodstock scallop so that the resource can continue to rebuild in this area.
The Department is concerned that continued harvesting during the remainder of the 2015-2016 fishing season in the above listed areas will damage sublegal scallops that could be caught during subsequent fishing seasons, as well as reduce any remaining broodstock that is essential to a recovery.
South Portland Harbor Closure
Finally, a correction to the originally published targeted closure description is needed to ensure that South Portland Harbor Targeted Closure is enforceable. In the original closure description, the northern boundary was stated as being drawn from the breakwater on Spring Point, Portland to the southwestern tip of Fort Scammer Island; this should in fact be House Island, not Fort Scammer Island and requires correction. In addition, the southern boundary is described as being a line from Cushing Island to the north shore of Shop Island, South Portland, when in fact is should be Ship Cove, Cape Elizabeth. Therefore, the language describing this targeted closure required a correction.
As a reminder, the current scallop management approach provides maximum fishing opportunity by establishing the 50, 60 and 70 day calendars, with the understanding that the season will not likely run this long, and that emergency closures will be implemented in-season to prevent areas from being overfished. When the DMR receives information indicating that a likelihood of 30 percent or more of the harvestable biomass has been removed, the commissioner closes harvesting in those areas through emergency action. We are in year four of the 10 year rotational management plan, and as part of the "phase-in" of the plan, the areas which are currently open for fishing have had only one year to rebuild. For these reasons, the department has consistently warned for the past several years that this is likely to be a "lean" year, with more limited fishing opportunity than most.