JONESBORO – While most everyone else on Thursday stuffed themselves, Steve Patryn spent the day working on fishing gear in his garage.
Patryn, 37, of Jonesboro was preparing for Sunday’s start of the scallop season. Along with feeling a bit grumpy about working on the holiday, he also is less than pleased with the latest regulations the state has handed down on the fishery.
“They’re breaking us down,” Patryn said of the new rules, which increase the shell size of legal scallops from 31/4-inches to 31/2-inches. “It’s making it hard for me to put food on my table.”
The state Department of Marine Resources believes, however, that the resource is threatened by overharvesting and does not waver in support of the changes.
The industry is the sixth largest fishery in the state.
The season already has been restricted to a Dec. 1 start, which takes November off the fishing calendar for scallop draggers, Patryn pointed out.
In all, the DMR has changed the rules for drag rigs three times in the last five years, Patryn said. He and other draggers say the state does not have adequate data to conclude that scallops are threatened.
DMR Deputy Commissioner Penn Estabrook pulls no punches, though, about the state of the fishery.
“The scallop fishery is in very tough shape,” he said Friday.
Patryn countered that DMR is reacting to reduced landings without knowing why the catch is down. A glut of scallops caught off Cape Cod last year deflated prices from $7 a pound down to $3, he said, making it not worthwhile for Patryn and others to fuel up their boats and pay a deck hand.
“They have no survey data, past or present,” he said of DMR.
Patryn believes the state should employ an observer program, whereby regulators go with fishermen to see just what is being caught. He said he has volunteered his boat to help regulators get more information, but no one has taken him up on the offer.The DMR rule affects fishing within three miles of the coast. Patryn and others sometimes go farther off shore into federal waters to fish. With the new rule, he said, his legal 31/4-inch shell scallops caught in federal waters become illegal when he crosses the three-mile line.
“This is a joke,” he said, disparaging the thought process that led to the changes.
Patryn noted that he was unable to find a scallop size gauge to purchase with the new size, making it difficult for him to measure the scallops to be sure they are legal.
Scallopers harvest by hauling a large iron frame on which a kind of net, with iron rings and webbing, is fixed. The rig drags through a few inches of the bottom, flipping shellfish into a pocket formed by the net and rings. The net is large enough to let fish escape.
In recent years, the “twineback,” or netting size, also has been increased, Patryn said.
The new rules also raise the ring size from 31/4-inches to 31/2-inches.
In addition, a third rule change requires scallop fishermen to sort their catch, throwing back undersized shells, before they cut the meat out.
Patryn said this adds to the cost of doing business, requiring more crew or leaving a crew member idle at times. He employs two men on his 49-foot boat, he said.
Estabrook agreed that the “cull before you cut” rule met with a lot of opposition during hearings on the new rules.
He disagrees with Patryn’s claim, though, that DMR’s science is flawed. He said surveys have shown that the larger scallops are the ones that breed readily, and that by taking them when they are smaller, they do not have time to reproduce.
Estabrook also noted that the rule changes have been 18 months in the making.