December 3, 2013

Prices for Maine scallops skyrocket

Officials cite low supply as the reason for the strong prices, as the state's scallop season kicks off.

The Associated Press

Maine scallop fishermen kicked off their season Monday with some of the highest per-pound prices ever seen, helping to offset harvesting restrictions put in place to better manage the fishery, a state official said.

click image to enlarge

In this December 2011 file photo, gulls seeking scraps follow a fishing boat where sternman Josh Gatto shucks scallops on the trip back to shore off Harpswell, Maine. Maine scallop fishermen are kicking off their 2013-14 season with highest prices in recent memory.

AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

click image to enlarge

In this December 2011 file photo, scallop meat is shucked at sea on opening day off Harpswell, Maine. Maine scallop fishermen are kicking off their 2013-14 season with highest prices in recent memory.

AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

Fishermen in the scallop-rich waters of Cobscook Bay near the Canadian border were being paid $12 to $13 per pound on the opening day, far higher than last season’s prices that ranged between $7 and $9, said Trisha DeGraaf, scallop resource management coordinator from the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

“This year’s price is the highest I’ve ever seen it,” she said Monday after visiting Cobscook Bay, where more than 100 scallop boats were out despite rough weather.

Maine’s scallop fishermen operate under a regulatory system that divides the state into three zones with restrictions and closures aimed at allowing scallops to replenish.

For most of the coast, the scallop season will last 70 days. But the season will be limited to a 50-day season in Cobscook Bay. Daily catch limits are also in place.

Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said the restrictions have been challenging, but the efforts aimed at restoring the fishery are working.

In 2012, fishermen hauled in 2.4 million pounds of whole scallops, or about 290,000 pounds of meat, the best harvest in a decade. The catch was worth $3.2 million.

Last year, about 400 fishermen took part in the scallop fishery, and that number is expected to be even higher, especially of the shrimp fishery is shut down.

The higher-than-normal boat price at the opening of Maine’s 2013-14 season reflects a low supply of scallops because most fishermen who drag for scallops far offshore in waters controlled by the federal government already have burned through their quotas for the year.

The goal is for the scallop fishery to produce a sustainable resource that can support the existing 600-plus license holders, DeGraaf said.

So far, the restoration efforts that began in 2009 with the closing of 20 percent of fishing grounds off the Maine coast appear to be working. The scallops that were being snatched from the ocean floor on Monday were larger and more valuable than in past years, DeGraaf said.

“The rebuilding of this fishery is the result of successful cooperation between industry and the state,” Keliher said in a statement. “The new management approach has been challenging for industry, but their commitment to make necessary sacrifices and to work with us is now paying off.”

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