Scallop fishermen are sharply divided over a proposal to allow leasing of allocations in their fishery, as the New England Fishery Management Council conducts a series of East Coast scoping meetings to gauge sentiment on the idea.

Mid-Atlantic fishermen get their chance to sound off Thursday, May 19 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Holiday Inn on Route 72 in Manahawkin, N.J., close to scallop ports like Barnegat Light and Cape May. At a May 11 session in New Bedford, Mass., much of the audience spoke against leasing, warning of negative impacts if rules are changed to allow limited access permit holders to lease fishing allocations.

The Scallopers Campaign, a group representing about 50 permit holders from New England to North Carolina, asked the council in 2021 to consider rule changes that would allow limited leasing of allocation. Advocates for the change say it will allow flexibility in the fishery, and allow operators to adjust to circumstances, such as boat breakdowns, that would otherwise cost them fishing days.

The council has considered allowing the combining of permits, so-called "stacking" on vessels, and leasing in the past.  The council has maintained ownership levels on the number of permits operators can hold, but consolidation remains a persistent worry among many fishermen.

In New Bedford, skeptics of the leasing proposal – including some city and port officials along with fishermen – recall the consolidating effects of groundfish management measures. The Mid-Atlantic industry likewise has memories of consolidation in the surf clam fishery, the first U.S. sector to be managed with transferable quotas in the early 1990s.

The New England council is holding in-person scoping sessions – the next in New Bedford is scheduled for May 25 at 4 p.m. at the city's Whaling Museum – along with two online webinars.  The council will vote at its September meeting on whether it should begin preparing an amendment to the scallop management plan that will allow leasing.

New England Fishery Management Council scallop leasing meeting schedule and fact sheets:

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for more than 30 years and a 25-year field editor for National Fisherman before joining our Commercial Marine editorial staff in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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