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September 26, 2009

New rules may force scallop fisherman to old ways

Changes in the federal sea scallop rules governing the hundreds of general category scallopers have infuriated Wally Gray, who often fishes out of Gloucester on his 44-foot Foxy Lady II.

The Stonington, Maine, scallop fisherman said those changes will probably force him to do what he did years ago out of New Bedford.

"I'm 50. I've been on a boat since age 3. My parents couldn't afford a baby sitter, so my father used to take me out lobstering. I started scalloping on small boats. Scallops were $1.20 to $1.40 a pound then. I moved off of the island (Stonington) when I was 19," said Gray, who crewed on or skippered big New Bedford scallopers from 1978 to 1994 before buying his own old wooden Novi-style boat in 1995.

He purchased the 20-year-old fiberglass Foxy Lady II in 2004 and has remained in the general category scallop fleet, which was allowed to fish days and bring home up to 400 pounds of shucked scallop meats each trip. Gray, like many of his general category peers, often led a nomadic life.

"If I wasn't catching (the scallops at a particular ground), I would go to the next spot (where there were scallops). I've fished from Maine to Cape May, N.J." he said.

Federal scallop rules, which set the total catch limit of 20,820 metric tons in 2009 for the full- and part-time big boats and smaller general category vessels, have already changed Gray's old way of scalloping. He had two choices this year, and he joined a newly-established, limited-access fleet with individual fishing quotas (IFQs) over dredging up 200 pounds of shucked meats a day in a new northern Gulf of Maine scallop area. Once this zone's 70,000-pound annual quota is caught, the fishing ceases until the next year.

Since the fishing "powers-that-be" needed additional time to iron out the individual fishing quota system, which they hoped would go into effect this year, participants such as Gray have had to work under a 4.6-million pound annual catch limit quartered into March to May, June to August, September to November, and December to February seasons, each with catch limits. Fishing stops once a quarter's quota has been caught; any overages will be deducted from the next season's catch.

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