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EMERGENCY CLOSURE NOTICE: Cobscook Bay & Owls Head 02/03/2016
Friday, February 05, 2016 @ 09:20:30 EST
This notice is to alert you that DMR has identified two scallop fishing areas for which the 30% removal target has been exceeded:
- Cobscook Bay
- Owls Head
In addition, harvesting in the St. Croix River will be limited to one day per week for draggers on Wednesdays and one day per week for divers on Fridays during the months of February, March and April 2016.
Based on direct input from Marine Patrol and independent industry participants as well as observations made through the Department’s monitoring programs, the level of fishing effort in these areas during the fishing season has likely exceeded the 30% removal target that ensures the fishery continues to rebuild. Continued fishing threatens remaining broodstock scallops that are needed for successful spawning to rebuild the resource in these areas as well as sublegal product that will recruit up to the fishery for harvest in future years. These closures will be effective on Saturday, February 6, 2016.
Cobscook Bay & St. Croix River
Cobscook Bay has experienced a high amount of fishing effort the past three fishing seasons, as well as this season, and requires an immediate conservation closure. This determination is based on information collected in the DMR fishery independent in-season survey, DMR port sampling and Marine Patrol observations as well as direct industry reports. These reports indicate a total of 59 vessels have been consistently targeting the area since it opened on December 1, 2015. In the following weeks, the number of active vessels in the area steadily rose to 134 vessels which have been consistently fishing in Cobscook Bay since the week of December 28, 2015. In addition, approximately 6 divers have also been targeting the area the entire season to date. During the first week of the season, the majority of vessels were able to reach their daily limit of 10 gallons by 9am. Scallop meat counts were reported to be large in size and varied between 15-17 meats per pound as the majority of harvesters were only taking the larger, 5-6” scallops.
During the week of January 25, 2016, after 25 days of harvest in the area, the Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE) observed by the port sampling program was 6.2 l/m, which was down from 9.6 l/m observed during the first week of December, representing a 35.5% decline. Fleet behavior suggests that Cobscook Bay is being serially depleted. During the first few weeks of the season, vessels were concentrated on the best scallop beds/grounds; however, a portion of the fleet has begun to spread out as they search for other beds and sequentially depleted those grounds, moving from the East and South Bay area to the Lower portion of Cobscook Bay in Johnsons Bay and around Treats Island. During the week of February 1, 2016, after 28 days of harvest, the majority of vessels were reported to be reaching their daily limit around 11am, with some fishing past noon. In addition, both port sampling program and dealers purchasing scallops in the area have reported that the size of meats has started to decline with counts reported by the dealers in the mid to high 20s, indicating that the majority of the larger sized scallops have been harvested from the area. Marine Patrol observations further confirmed this on February 1, 2016 when the average meat counts were approximate 31 count per pound. Finally, the DMR in-season survey has been observing increasing numbers of freshly cut sublegal scallop shells down to the 2 inch size range, while Marine Patrol issued summonses during the week of February 1, 2016 for sublegal shellstock, further indicating that the majority of legal sized scallops have been removed and the harvest target for the area has been met. Furthermore, a high concentration of sublegal scallops has been observed in all five DMR fishery independent surveys for the area which require protection.
Continued scallop fishing in Cobscook Bay would cause continued unusual damage and imminent depletion to the scallop resource due to mortality of scallops contacted by dragging during fishing operations. Incidental mortality of scallops caused by dragging has been estimated to be at least 13-17% per tow. This level of scallop mortality would have a significant negative impact on the abundance of the sublegal scallops that will recruit into the fishery in future seasons. Also, the continued harvest in Cobscook Bay is likely to reduce the remaining legal-sized broodstock scallops that are not only essential for successful spawning but will be available to the fleet next season. Therefore, an immediate conservation closure of Cobscook Bay is required as continued fishing in this area threatens sublegal scallops through incidental mortality of dredges and to protect remaining broodstock scallops so that the resource can continue to rebuild in this area. The St. Croix River will remain open one day per week for harvest opportunities to the local fleet and will be available for harvest to draggers on Wednesdays and divers on Fridays in February, March and April, 2016.
In the Owls Head area of Lower Penobscot Bay, Marine Patrol, in-season surveys and direct industry reports indicate that the majority of legal sized scallops have been harvested and the area warrants an immediate conservation closure. While members of the fleet were able to reach their daily landings limit (15 gallons of meats) during the first few weeks of the season, over the past month the majority of vessels have moved out of this area, targeting outside areas when possible. However, on foul weather days, some vessels have returned to the area to fish for any remaining legal product, but unable to reach the daily limit. Direct industry reports indicate that contained in this area are pockets of high concentrations of sublegal product and concern that continued fishing will damage and prevent that product from being available in future fishing seasons. In response to these concerns, on January 29, 2016 DMR conducted an in-season survey of the area; observations reflected extremely low levels of harvestable biomass density of 0.58 g/m2. The biomass density estimates were lower than what was observed in the Muscle Ridge and Western Penobscot Bay Limited Access Area, which were closed via emergency regulation on January 23, 2016, suggesting that the 30% harvest target for this area has also been met. Therefore, an immediate closure of the Owl Head Area is needed for the remainder of the 2015-16 season to protect remaining legal sized scallops that are essential for rebuilding the resource in this area as well as to protect sublegal scallops from incidental mortality associated with dragging to ensure they can recruit up to the fishery in future seasons.
The Department is concerned that continued harvesting during the remainder of the 2015-2016 fishing season in the above listed areas will reduce any remaining broodstock that is essential to a recovery. An immediate conservation closure is necessary to reduce the risk of unusual damage and imminent depletion of the scallop resource in the Muscle Ridge and Western Penobscot Bay areas.
As a reminder, the current scallop management approach provides maximum fishing opportunity by establishing the 50, 60 and 70 day calendars, with the understanding that the season will not likely run this long, and that emergency closures will be implemented in-season to prevent areas from being over-fished. When the DMR receives information indicating that a likelihood of 30% or more of the harvestable biomass has been removed, the Commissioner closes harvesting in those areas through emergency action. We are in year 4 of the 10 year rotational management plan, and as part of the “phase-in” of the plan, the areas which are currently open for fishing have had only 1 year to rebuild. For these reasons, the Department has consistently warned for the past several years that this is likely to be a “lean” year, with more limited fishing opportunity than most.
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