Community Resilience Depends on Affordable Licensing

The Maine Department of Marine Resources’ (DMR) Scallop Advisory Council is scheduled to meet over the course of the next 12 months to define an apprenticeship program for new licenses to enter the state scallop fishery. Apprenticeship programs are used in many skilled industries, but unique in Maine’s application to commercial fisheries. Apprenticeship programs provide new entrants access to a fishery by requiring licensed apprentices to work alongside a seasoned sponsor fisherman for a specified amount of time and/or certain tasks.

Throughout the 90s and early 2000s, most of Maine’s state fisheries – including scallops – issued moratoria on new licenses, primarily due to concerns about resource abundance. Maine’s scallop landings reached an all-time low in 2005, which precipitated implementing a new management strategy in 2009. Together with local scallop fishermen, DMR identified strategic areas to close to fishing for three years. In 2012, with assistance from MCCF, DMR opened closed areas, which then became limited access areas and adopted a rotational management strategy from Penobscot Bay to Cobscook Bay.

Since then, the state fishery has been rebounding: total landings in the past nine seasons have tripled that of the previous nine seasons, the number of fishermen participating in the fishery through reactivation of latent licenses has doubled, and the total ex-vessel value brought to the state has more than quadrupled from $11.19 million 2018 dollars to $51 million! This all translates to an individual scallop fisherman making three times more money per season in the past nine seasons than the previous nine – even with the doubling of competition on the water.

These increases led the 2018 State Legislature to establish a lottery for issuing new licenses according to a 3:2 exit:entry ratio for licenses to drag for scallops and a 1:1 ratio for dive licenses. The first lottery was held last fall, resulting in four new drag licenses and zero dive licenses. While it was generally thought to be a move in the right direction and that new licenses meant hope for community resilience, many fishermen felt the lottery inadequately vetted the necessary winter fishery safety skills.

In response, the 2019 Legislature passed a Bill directing DMR to establish an Apprenticeship license and program for industry review by December 2020. Scallop Advisory Council meetings are open to the public allowing opportunities to ask questions and provide feedback on designing the program and its requirements. MCCF’s Chief Scientist, Carla Guenther, holds one of two scientist seats on the Scallop Advisory Council and as such, will be a part of developing the apprenticeship program by fall of next year. Stay tuned as we will post SAC meetings and other opportunities to contribute as they are scheduled.