NAHANT — After hearing from more than 200 people who wrote letters demanding a reconsideration, the state has decided not to allow sea scallop dredging where it is currently prohibited off the coast of Nahant.
“I am not anti-making-a-living,” said commercial lobsterman Justin Mahoney. “I have no problem with a fisherman making a living. I don’t like that we don’t know what the long term effects could be.”
Scallop harvesting is done through dredging, which disrupts the sea floor, said Mahoney. The State Division of Marine Fisheries proposed a pilot program that would allow dredging for scallops in areas where it is currently not allowed from February and March.
“There’s a metal sled that they tow and it digs into the bottom,” said Mahoney. “In the process of doing so, it can disturb any kind of sea life on the bottom. At this time of year, a lot of that is in its hibernation state. I’m more concerned about the long term effect on a healthy lobster resource and opening up an unproven scallop fishery when you already have a proven lobster fishery.”
The fisherman said in the past, the boats have dug up and moved lobster traps. Rocks and sediment are often moved by the sled, which could be home to small lobsters and spawning cod fish.
“To address these many concerns, DMF would need substantial research from our habitat and fish biology programs and input from the natural gas company and other government entities,” said director of the Division of Marine Fisheries David Pierce in a statement. “I cannot commit DMF resources to carry out this research that would have to be multi-year and quite expensive.”
The division sent out an advisory asking for public comment on the potential pilot program, which would exempt the use of sea scallop dredge gear in an area of the North Shore Year-Round Mobile Gear Closure, where fishermen are currently prohibited from harvesting scallops.
The area includes waters off the Eastern Point of Nahant, where fishing for cod and stripers is restricted, said selectman Enzo Barile.
“As much as I love scallops, I think it would be a bad thing to do out there,” said Barile. “For years, you couldn’t catch a striper while I was a kid. Now they’re in abundance. If they start dredging out there, they will suck up everything, including eggs. The pipeline is out there and they could easily damage it.”
Diane Monteith, chairwoman of the town’s Green Community Committee, said the majority of the townspeople were against the program because they think it will have a negative effect on the ocean floor and disturb the balance of the ecosystem.
Pierce received comments from residents, lobstermen, divers, recreational fishermen, and others, voicing concerns about the impact the dredge gear may have on inshore habitat, lobsters, juvenile finfish and spawning cod, shipwrecks and other historically significant marine archaeological sites, finfish and lobster fishing businesses, and the Algonquin gas pipeline, among others.