When I say scallops, you say….

Scallops. Is the state of the bivalve resource healthy or not? People who consistently follow news reports about the shellfish can be forgiven if they’re not exactly sure.

This AP story about scallops, which appeared in print and on air this past week, indicates that the industry is “booming.” The story is about incidental catch of yellowtail flounder in scallop fishing equipment used on Georges Bank, which is located hundreds of miles offshore between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Maine.

The AP story says: “The success of the scallop industry has made New Bedford (Mass.) the top revenue fishing port in the country for more than a decade. Total revenues for the scallop industry, which extends to North Carolina, nearly quadrupled from $120 million in 1994 to $450 million in 2010, in inflation-adjusted dollars, according to a federal report.”

When I write about scallops, however, the words “success” and “booming” rarely come up. That’s because I write about the Maine in-shore industry, which involves dayboats that go out for only a few hours and harvest scallops within sight of shore. That fishery, which requires only a state-issued license (rather than a federal scalloping license), is not doing that great.

When I write about Maine’s scallop fishery, I often include paragraphs like this one:

“In 2009, when Maine Department of Marine Resources nearly canceled the second half of that year’s scallop season, only 85,000 pounds of scallop meat were harvested by licensed divers and draggers in Maine. That overall catch, for which the statewide fleet earned less than $600,000, was the third-lowest annual yield in Maine since 1950, according to DMR statistics. Only 2004 and 2005 had lower statewide scallop landings totals.”

And this one:

“The historical peak of the fishery in Maine was in 1981, when fishermen harvested 3.8 million pounds of scallop meat and earned a total of $15.2 million for their catch. In 2010, Maine fishermen caught 195,000 pounds of scallop in state waters and were paid a statewide total of $1.5 million for their efforts. In 2011, when the average per pound price increased by $2, the fleet caught 173,000 pounds and earned a total of $1.73 million.”

So there’s a difference between the federal scallop fishery, which in New England is based on Georges Bank, and the state fishery, which hugs the Maine coastline. The same could be said of yellowtail flounder, though the difference is not as dramatic. Catches and limits on yellowtail may be low on Georges Bank, but according to DMR yellowtail harvests have been virtually non-existent in Maine for the past decade.

Many scallop fishermen in Maine swear that scallops caught in coastal waters taste better, especially if they are eaten within hours of being caught, because the scallops caught far offshore take days or even weeks to arrive on a diner’s plate. But DMR officials have been saying recently that they would like to emulate the federal fishery by implementing a rotating closure schedule for scallop fishing along the coast. Rotating closures enforced by federal officials on Georges Bank is a main reason why the federal fishery has rebounded so well over the past 20 years, according to DMR. They’d like to see scallops in Maine coastal waters do the same.

Bill Trotter

About Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for 20 years, Bill Trotter keeps track of how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coast shape the lives, lifestyles and livelihoods of coastal Maine residents and visitors. A resident of Ellsworth, Bill covers Acadia National Park, Hancock County, fisheries, marine-related topics and more for the BDN. Follow him on Twitter at @billtrotter.