Scallop fishing in the Gulf of Maine: A David-Goliath story

GLOUCESTER, MA - 3/17/2017:  Captain: Jim Wotton on board his 45 foot fishing boat Overkill Time shucks scallops.  Small boat fishermen, who are subject to quotas, worry that large fishing boats are taking advantage to haul in as much as they can catch are vacuuming up the seas and wiping out their future. (David L Ryan/Globe Staff Photo) SECTION: METRO TOPIC 22scallops
Captain Jim Wotton shucked a scallop fresh from the water on board his 45-foot fishing boat Overkill Time. Competition from larger boats is pressuring him. –David L. Ryan / Boston Globe

Since the start of the scallop season this month, Jim Wotton has dragged heavy dredges along the seabed off Gloucester, hauling in as much as 200 pounds a day of the valuable clams, the area’s federal limit for small-boat fishermen.

Now, to his dismay, dozens of larger, industrial-sized boats have been steaming into the same gray waters, scooping up as many scallops as they can. Unlike their smaller counterparts, the large vessels have no quota on the amount they can catch; they’re only limited by the number of days they can fish.

It’s a regulatory loophole that small-boat fishermen fear could wipe out the resurgent scallop grounds in the northern Gulf of Maine. This year, officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimate that the large boats are likely to catch about a million pounds of scallops – roughly half of the area’s estimated stock.

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