- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 18, 2017

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Fishing regulators have started changing the way the East Coast scallop fishery is managed, with an eye toward avoiding more conflicts between small- and big-boat fishermen.

The New England Fishery Management Council decided to initiate changes Tuesday. Government fishing regulators use different rules for different classes of boats that work the same areas. Recently, a class mostly made up of smaller boats has been in conflict with bigger boats in the northern Gulf of Maine.

Some fishermen in the small-boat fishery contend the rules allow bigger boats to overexploit scallops, which are the subject of one of the most valuable fisheries in America. Bigger boats say the two can co-exist.

The management council says there is a “critical need to initiate surveys and develop additional tools to better manage the area.” It also says the new rules could include limiting some boats from fishing in the area until the total scallop population can be more accurately determined.

Crafting new rules will likely take months, and they might not be finished before next year’s scallop season begins in April.

“The process was started, but now the real work begins,” said Togue Brawn, who runs a scallop business called Downeast Dayboat and has advocated for small-boat fishermen.

The root of the conflict between boats is that the smaller boats have a possession limit of 200 pounds, while the larger boats have no limit, because they’re regulated instead by a limited number of days at sea.

The conflict is happening at a time when both the volume and value of the scallop catch have been high, and consumer demand has followed suit. The catch has been worth more than $400 million every year this decade after previously surpassing that number only once.

Federal regulators shut down the northern Gulf of Maine last month amid the conflict. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the total allowable catch for the area had been fully harvested.

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