Scallop season gets underway with further advances

Since 2008, we’ve worked tirelessly with fishermen, researchers, and regulators, to rebuild the scallop resource. In more than 60 community meetings held across the state of Maine, we heard loud and clear that two things must happen in the scallop fishery: 1) a shift to a smaller, regional-scale management approach, and 2) the passage of owner-operator into law.

Based on these recommendations, a regional approach to scallop management was adopted by the Maine Department of Marine Resources in 2012, but owner-operator took a bit longer to achieve. Now, we are pleased to say that the 2017-18 state scallop fishery opened on December 1 with both goals accomplished.

The year is full of enthusiasm and hope for more rebuilding efforts to come. The docks outside our office are buzzing, as boats have been switching over their gear earlier, more enthusiastically, and in greater numbers than in the past. Here’s a breakdown of the changes we’ve seen and how they’ll lead us into the future:

Small-scale management:

When we first started discussing a new management model for scallops, the resource and fishery were at their lowest in recorded history. This season, we are five years into a new, ten-year rotational and real-time adaptive management model in Eastern Maine. Landings have increased fivefold, and the number of participating fishermen has nearly tripled.

Scallops are distributed in patches on the seafloor. These patches, or beds, sometimes move from one year to the next, or decade to decade, based on a number of factors. For this reason, managing the scallop fishery adaptively, at a smaller scale, has so far proven successful. With real-time data from the fishery, the emergency closure mechanism can respond to resource changes with more precision. The model reduces pressure on the scallop resource while permitting continued fishing and economic opportunity in areas that have not been heavily fished.

The rebuilding of the scallop resource and rebound of this winter fishery provides a crucial economic opportunity to diversify Maine’s fishing portfolio. The season takes place when non-federal lobster permit holders bring their traps ashore. With shrimping closed for another season, winter fishing opportunities are limited. 2017’s slower lobster season, coupled with recent increases in scallop abundance, has those lucky enough to have a state scallop license eager to rig up for scalloping.

Owner-Operator is passed into law:

Last spring, the state legislature passed a law making Maine’s scallop fishery owner-operator. In 2012, in licensing workshops facilitated by our staff, owner-operator was identified as the single most important policy to preserve community-scale fishing. Fisherman had identified the need to make scallop licenses owner-operator to ensure that resource violations would result in a loss of fishing activity and those bad-actors would be removed from the fishery and unable to jump to another boat. Fast forward, the 2017 scallop season kicked off under the approved law – the first time that Maine has extended its owner-operator laws beyond the lobster fishery. A revolutionary idea, for an already revolutionary state.

The law is a victory for small businesses. It ensures the largest stakeholders are those observing the ecosystem. When license holders are seeing first-hand the water, environment, gear, and catch, they become crucial observers and better advocates for the fisheries in which they participate. The law protects fishermen from being a middleman and avoids corporate consolidation and competing interests. At Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, we see this law as a step toward the future and better management, and a way to avoid some of the pitfalls we’ve observed in neighboring states.

New licenses, not this year but on the horizon:

There has been a moratorium on new entry into scalloping since 2009, as the state has worked to rebuild the fishery.

While new licenses have not yet been made available, discussions for entry are underway. Now that the law guarantees any future license holders be owner-operators, that door can close, and another can open. Any future entry into the fishery will protect small-scale fishermen. And while the transition causes strain for some fishermen utilizing short-term workarounds, the management structure is set up to support long-term success.

The discussions have, of course, not been perfect. Debates have taken place in council meetings and public forums, with the fishing community worried about the proposed lottery system; how to award access and to whom and when. A particularly sensitive discussion in light of a fishery that is still recovering and a season that is typically cut short as some areas are depleted early in the season. None the less, an entry program will be brought to the state legislature this winter.


The addition of the owner-operator ruling, the conversation around the docks, and the notable increase in the number of non-commercial scallop licenses all lead to an increased interest at the possibility of entry in seasons to come. We will continue to watch, and advocate, as these license decisions unfold – a development which we find exciting for the fishery. It reassures us that this unique management approach is continuing to head in the right direction.