Knowing when Maine scallop season largely depends on what part of the coast you are scalloping at, how, and which scallop you are fishing for. The Maine scallop season generally occurs throughout the winter months but begins in late fall and ends in early spring. Depending on the scalloping, diving, or dragging method, the scallop harvest runs from mid-to-late November through March 31.
Does Maine Regulate Scallop Limits?
Scallops are one of Maine’s most prized and valuable types of seafood. Because of that, the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) carefully monitors and regulates the inshore fishing industry, which extends to three miles from shore. The inshore scallop season is restricted according to established zones along the coast. Daily possession limits are in place in each zone, and the minimum size is limited to 4 inches in diameter or larger scallops.
To protect the resource, areas in each zone are monitored closely and are subject to closure for the season if scalloping approaches unsustainable harvesting levels. DMR also implements emergency or experimental closures in depleted areas, allowing scallop populations to rebound.
The New England Fishery Management Council governs offshore Atlantic sea scallop fishing. Atlantic sea scallops in federal waters along the Northwestern Atlantic Coast are not overfished, nor is overfishing occurring. Offshore scallop fishing is not overfished. The areas (those beyond three miles from shore) at sea are opened and closed on a rotational basis when needed.
How Are Scallops Harvested?
Two methods are used for fishing scallops, either by dayboat or by the diver. The more efficient means of harvesting scallops is mechanical drag from a dayboat trawler. Unlike dredging used to burrow deep into the bottom sediment for clams, dragging only harvests the scallops (and other animals such as urchins and mussels) from the seafloor’s surface. Dayboat scalloping gets its name from the time the trawlers are out to sea—no more than 24 hours to ensure the freshness of the catch. Dayboat fishing trips can be done inshore or offshore if they return on time.
Inshore scallop fishing, i.e., within state waters, is also done by SCUBA divers. “Diver scallops” or “dive-caught scallops” are those collected by hand and placed into mesh bags. The diver season runs longer, from November to April, and is considered more eco-friendly because the hand-selection limits the catch to larger, mature scallops. To be sure, diver-caught scallops are exponentially more time-consuming, so the price is often much higher than those caught via dragging.
The Difference Between Sea Scallops and Bay Scallops
- Sea Scallops are the most common class in Maine. They are noted for their larger shells and edible meat and are caught further from land.
- Bay scallops, on the other hand, are not indigenous to Maine. Technically, the northern range of bay scallops extends only to Cape Cod. However, smaller scallops caught in shallow waters closer to bays and estuaries may sometimes be identified as bay scallops.
The Potential of Culturing Scallops
Pressure on inshore scallop populations has prompted efforts to culture scallops. In such environments, bay or sea scallops can be produced. The potential market for Maine farm-raised scallops is very positive. Scallops may respond more quickly to farming initiatives because they reproduce quickly in smaller numbers. A mature female scallop produces over a hundred million eggs annually. The grow-out time from egg or spat to a harvest size that is commercially viable takes an estimated twenty-four to thirty-six months.
The Sustainability of Maine’s Scallop Population
Scallops are a vital part of Maine’s seafood industry. For that reason, sustainable efforts are underway in Maine to protect scallop populations. The DMR limits the inshore scallop season to winter and monitors the catch daily. Areas are subject to closure when scallop harvest levels decline. More promising is the economics and profitability of scallop farming. Continued farming initiatives ensure that scallops are sustainably harvested in Maine’s waters for generations.
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