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New Management System Aims to Restore Maine's Scallop Fishery
12/06/2012   Reported By: Tom Porter

It may be that lobster is Maine's most popular seafood. But there are those who, if forced to choose, would opt instead for the Maine scallop - and more specifically, the diver-harvested scallop. But these delicacies have been under increasing pressure, and landings have been at historic lows in recent years. This week, scallop season opened under a new management system, which sets out a 10-year time-frame designed to restore this highly-valuable fishery. Tom Porter reports.

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Originally Aired: 12/6/2012 5:30 PM


It's late morning on the opening day of the new scallop season. Andy Mays (above) steams into Blue Hill harbor aboard his boat, the Lost Airmen. For much of the year it's used for lobstering. Today, though, diving gear is piled up on the deck, and Mays is preparing for his third and final dive of the day.

"Some days it's nice - when it's sunny and there's lots of scallops, you get excited," he says. "But 90 percent of the days, it's work. And I enjoy the work. Most of us do. You can't do it if you don't enjoy it, because it sucks."

ScallopsMays (right, suiting up for a dive) is 48 years old, a veteran of the Coast Guard, who has been scallop diving for more than 20 years. It's tough work, he says.

"It's dark down there, it's dim," he says. "It's like I've got to swim over the scallops, and I've got my hand in front of my face like this, and it's dim and it's green, or darkish green, and it's cold, and the suit's compressed and it's very claustrophic. So if you're not into that - It's not Kozumel."

After about a half hour of picking scallops off the sea bed some 90 feet beneath the waves, Mays calls it quits because of high winds and poor visibility. Also, seawater has made its way into his dry suit through an open zipper: He's soaking wet and not in the best of moods.

Nevertheless, it's been a fair morning's work. He has about 50 pounds of scallops on board. Andy's assistant, Mike Tinker, separates the edible adductor muscle from the rest of the creature. He offers me one.

Mike Tinker: "Want to try it?"

Tom Porter: "What, raw?"

Mike Tinker: "Yeah."

Tom Porter: "I like scallops. Delicious!"

Scallops"The Maine scallop is a different scallop. All scallops might be created equally, but the point of equality ends when it hits the boat," says Togue Brawn. Brawn is owner of Maine Dayboat Scallops. She used to work for the state, managing the fishery, and is a passionate advocate of the Maine scallop.

Far superior, she says, to federally-harvested scallops, these are caught farther out to sea and can be up to two weeks old before they come ashore.

"We have an artisanal fishery - they're bringing in 185 pounds at a time, and they're four hours old when they hit the dock," Brawn says. "It's a pristine product. It's like a rare Bordeaux as opposed to a Barefoot."

And discerning consumers are willing to pay dearly for these morsels. Andy Mays won't say what he gets for his, but Browne Trading Compnay in Portland sells Maine diver-harvested scallops for $35 a pound, according to its Web site. On a good day, Mays says he can reach the daily catch limit of 185 pounds - a good haul, but nothing compared to the hey day of the early 1990s.

Tom Porter: "What was it like then? How was the harvest 20 years ago?"

Andy Mays: "Oh, phenomenal. Our worst day at the end of the season was kind of like what we do now."

But Mays says he's optimistic that new management meaures will help the fishery rebound. State Marine Resources Commissioner Pat Keliher also has high hopes.

"This fishery's a priority. It could be a very valuable fishery - it once was a very valuable fishery to the state of Maine - and I think it can be again if we continue on this course," Keliher says.

The new rules are the result of two years of public input, and dozens of meetings up and down the coast. They divide state waters into three zones, each with its own set of rules. They include a combination of limited access areas and a system of rotational management, in which certain areas are closed at certain times.

"We're fishing at very low levels, but the areas that we had closed previously - what are now referred to as limited access areas - have shown tremendous rebound by taking pressure of them for three years," Keliher says.

In the meantime, Andy Mays can still make a living harvesting scallops, which will be sold as delicacies in a jar with his name on it. Many of them, he says, will make their way into the kitchens of reputable sushi chefs in New York, LA and Chicago.

"And that chef can trace that scallop that I harvested back to me, back to right here. So he knows what - it's not some anonymous thing, and Quite frankly people who are dining are living vicariously a little bit through their food. So they know this is a diver scallop,. and they picture me being miserable down here with my (expletive) suit open, filled with cold water."

The water will only get colder from now on. The scallop season runs through March.

Photos by Tom Porter.

Photo of scallop on news page by Togue Brawn.


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