Scallop fishermen poised for fight over valuable shellfish

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Scallop fishing has increased dramatically off some parts of New England recently, and fishermen and regulators will soon meet to discuss how to avoid overexploiting the valuable shellfish.

The concern over scallop fishing centers on the northern Gulf of Maine, a management area that stretches roughly from the waters off of Boston to the Canadian border. Scallop grounds off of northern Massachusetts have been especially fertile, prompting increased fishing in that area.

The New England Fishery Management Council, a regulatory arm of the federal government, will hold a public meeting about the issue Wednesday and decide how to proceed.

Part of the concern arises from the fact that different classes of fishing boats harvest scallops in the area, and not all of them are restricted by a quota system. Alex Todd, a Maine-based fisherman who fishes off of Gloucester, Massachusetts, said he and others feel the rules are not equal.

"We're playing by two different sets of rules," Todd said, adding that fishermen who follow the quota system could reach quota as soon as next month.

But Drew Minkiewicz, an attorney for Fisheries Survival Fund who represents many fishermen who don't have to abide by the quota system, said he thinks the boats can coexist.

Some of the fishermen who recently started harvesting the northern Gulf of Maine for scallops use larger fishing boats than the harvesters who fish by quota. It's typical for them to seek the most scallop-rich fishing areas, Minkiewicz said.

"Obviously, when the larger vessels show up, people get anxious," Minkiewicz said. "There's a long history of vessels from New Bedford and south fishing in the Gulf of Maine."

Exactly how more regulations would impact consumers, whose desire for scallops has grown along with the domestic and international fishery over recent decades, is unclear.

Prices for scallops have been high in recent months, and catch levels have dropped from the boom years of the mid-2000s. However, scallop fishermen still caught more than 15,000 metric tons of sea scallops in 2014. That is about twice the annual haul for much of the 1990s, and value per pound has more than doubled since 20 years ago.