As Maine’s inshore scallop stocks rebound, state fishery managers said they wanted to ensure that federally permitted fishing vessels from Maine are able to access the resource on an equal basis with state-permitted vessels.

The state’s request was approved as part of a package of actions taken by the New England Fishery Management Council at its Sept. 26-29 meeting.

Enacted as part of Framework 23 to the Scallop Management Plan, the approved modifications requested by the state of Maine for the Northern Gulf of Maine scallop management program will allow vessels that hold a federal permit to fish for scallops in the Northern Gulf of Maine to now also fish in state waters on a trip-by-trip basis without those catches counting against the quota, called a “total allowable catch,” for the federal area.

The measure was adopted to make the federal Northern Gulf of Maine scallop management program more consistent with state management programs, according to the NEFMC.

NEFMC fishery analyst Dierdre Boelke said the request was made by the state of Maine as a result of the state’s work in recent years to rejuvenate scallop stocks in state waters.

She said the state wanted to make sure that all vessels from Maine, including those with federal permits, have access to the recovering inshore state fishery. The action will allow federally permitted vessels to declare its intentions on a trip-by-trip basis to fish only in state waters; vessels must declare their intention before leaving on their trips.

The catch taken from state waters will not count toward the overall quota that is established by the NEMFC for combined state and federal waters in the Northern Gulf of Maine. The Northern Gulf of Maine quota is 70,000 pounds. Once the quota is reached, scallop fishing is shut down for all vessels in the Northern Gulf of Maine.

The NEFMC considered sub-options for the measure, which included making the action applicable only for boats homeported in Maine; and making the action applicable for all vessels with a Northern Gulf of Maine permit.

The NEFMC also discussed the possibility of reducing the Northern Gulf of Maine quota to 31,000 pounds, from 70,000 pounds, in order to account for the poundage that would be taken by federally permitted vessels in state waters but which would no longer count toward the Northern Gulf of Maine quota.

Currently, said Boelke, the federal quota is elevated because a significant portion of catch comes from state waters. There is no precise figure on just how much catch comes from state waters, she said, because the state and federal landings reports are hard to break down.

The figure of 31,000 pounds was based on the results of the most recent federal resource survey, she said. Still, she said, the NEFMC plan development team did not consider resetting the quota to be an urgent matter, because the catch in the Northern Gulf of Maine in recent years has been only 10,000 to 15,000 pounds each year, or about 15 to 20 percent of the 70,000-pound quota.

She said the plan development team has recommended waiting until a second federal survey can be conducted, which is expected to occur next year. There are about 20 active Northern Gulf of Maine permits.

Togue Brawn, who worked for the state Department of Marine Resources for four years, said the Northern Gulf of Maine was originally created as a separate management area in order to acknowledge “the fact that the area experiences periodic booms and busts.”

Brawn continued, “The resource fluctuates dramatically and there’s reason to believe that the state resource fluctuates independently from the federal resource. That wouldn’t be a problem if the state water resource could be managed independently from the federal fishery.”

But without the change proposed in Framework 23, she said, federal management in the Northern Gulf of Maine posed “unnecessary constraints” on fishermen’s ability to participate in the recovering state water fisheries.

The DMR, she said, “made big changes to state water management. Those changes are starting to bear fruit. I believe that fishermen should be able to benefit from the improvement. I don’t think they should be prevented from participating in the state water fishery just because they hold a general category permit.”

Brawn said that basing the quota on the federal portion of the Northern Gulf of Maine — and then setting an “overage” figure for state-water landings — did not make sense, given the federal portion’s smaller share of landings.

Brawn said that Maine’s Cobscook Bay alone had a harvestable biomass in 2009 of more than 190,000 pounds; in 2010 that figure increased 40 percent to 287,000 pounds, she said.

“And that’s just one bay,” she said. She added, “Maine is now managing state waters responsibly.”

“It’s a very important issue to the number of fishermen in communities in all of the Northern Gulf of Maine area,” said the DMR’s Terry Stockwell. “This isn’t just a Maine issue. We [Maine] only have a quarter of the total vessels that have these permits.”

According to information provided in the NEFMC’s discussion documents, the Northern Gulf of Maine management area was created through Amendment 11 to the Scallop Management Plan and was designed to provide continued access for vessels from Northern New England that would otherwise likely not qualify for individual fishing quota permits because of the “sporadic booms and busts of the scallop resource in that area.” A separate limited entry program was developed for this area with a reduced possession limit of 200 pounds.

However, according to the NEFMC document, certain provisions of the Northern Gulf of Maine management area have proven problematic. This includes the provision that all catch by Northern Gulf of Maine vessels count against the federal quota even if scallops were caught in state waters — because it was viewed as inconsistent — since the quota was supposed to be based on the federal resource only.

Also, according to the document, once the Northern Gulf of Maine quota is reached, all Northern Gulf of Maine-permitted vessels are prohibited from all scallop fishing, even in state waters.

“This too has been viewed as inconsistent and unfair for Northern Gulf of Maine permitted vessels that also hold state scallop permits,” the NEFMC said.

Several other actions were also finalized in Framework 23. These included a requirement for larger scallop vessels to use a modified type of gear designed to reduce injury and mortality of sea turtles that come into contact with scallop dredges.

The new gear is called a “turtle deflector dredge” and is designed to facilitate the passage of turtles up and over the dredge, rather than the turtle passing under the frame when the dredge fishes on the seafloor and getting injured or crushed. The turtle deflector dredge is also anticipated to reduce the likelihood of a turtle getting stuck in the dredge frame.

According to Boelke, the current estimate is that 125 turtles per year come into contact with scallop dredges. The new dredge is expected to result in a 56 percent reduction in turtle injury rate. The new dredge also catches about 4 percent more scallops, she said.