After months of heated debate between scallop fleet owners, captains and crew, fisheries regulators are set to decide on a proposal to allow leasing in New England’s lucrative scallop fishery.

The New England Fishery Management Council will vote on the contentious issue in Gloucester on Tuesday. Days ahead of the vote, the council’s scallop advisory panel passed a motion recommending the council proceed with developing a leasing program in the limited access component. However, exemplifying how divisive the issue is, the scallop committee could not reach a consensus — failing to pass any recommendations to the council in two split votes.

Supporters say leasing of fishing allocations will improve efficiency, cut operational costs, minimize emissions amid climate change, ameliorate port congestion and increase flexibility in the event a vessel fails. Opponents say it’s a means of furthering consolidation, with crew and independent shoreside businesses likely to bear the cost.


In a 9-to-4 vote, the advisory panel, which is composed of several scallop permit owners, passed a motion in support of leasing. Eric Hansen, the panel’s former vice chair who will be sworn in as a voting council member next week, commented during the panel and committee meetings, stating one has to keep in mind the “overwhelming” opposition to leasing.

Of the nearly 300 commenters over the public comment process, 78% opposed leasing — most being captains and crew out of New Bedford, according to NEFMC’s analysis. Leasing supporters in this week’s meetings were critical of the “form letters” submitted by opponents that shared similar or the same language, believing it inaccurately weighted public opinion. Leasing supporters also submitted many letters to the council last year that shared the same or similar language in requests to undertake scoping for leasing.

Hansen, who will have the power to cast a vote on leasing (though he can abstain) said it would not be a voluntary program, despite what supporters propose, and would create a commodity.

“If you do not participate, you lose,” said Hansen, who owns two scallopers. He added that if the council can address the need for flexibility regarding vessel failure without an amendment, that would be best.

While leasing has some support from people who own one to a few vessels, some of the biggest fleets in New Bedford and the East Coast are financially backing this proposal through the Scallopers Campaign. They’ve paid D.C. lobbyists an estimated $20,000 since January to lobby Congress and NOAA, which included meeting with NOAA Fisheries’ top administrator and getting pro-leasing language inserted in a Congressional report.

The opposition has been largely centralized in New Bedford — driven by the city’s crew and some vessel owners through Facebook and Instagram pages, representation from a local attorney and a letter writing effort. Strongly echoing their concerns have been local and state elected officials.

For those on both the industry and council side, the push for leasing isn’t unfamiliar. A look into the history of leasing requests shows the efforts go back more than 25 years, with some of the same industry players pitching varied plans that would change the amount they could fish with existing vessels. Letters, old press clippings and recent comments show some have changed their minds, while others have remained staunchly set in their beliefs.

History of leasing proposals

In November of 1994, NEFMC convened in Warwick to discuss how days-at-sea fishing allocations could be sold or leased in the scallop fishery to help ease the impact of conservation regulations and increase fishing time for the scallop vessels. Under a new amendment, it was anticipated vessels’ days at sea would almost halve by the year 2000 in an effort to conserve the scallop resource; today, the vessels spend less time at sea, which has created even more excess capacity, leasing proponents say.

During another meeting that year, some raised concerns about a consolidation program, with the Standard-Times reporting critics believed the ability to redistribute fishing time among permits would favor fleet owners with the financial resources to “consolidate or stack,” and work against “small, family-owned fishing enterprises.”

In subsequent years, some scallop permit owners have come before the council requesting the option to condense allocations onto fewer permits or vessels through permit stacking or leasing, with voices old and new airing the same worries — or praising the potential benefits.

Jeffrey Pike, a registered lobbyist until 2022 with the Scallopers Campaign, wrote to NEFMC more than a decade ago on behalf of another group called the Scallop Capacity Reduction Coalition, stating permit stacking and leasing would be an effective way to match the harvesting capacity and resource availability.

“We’re called greedy … Some believe we only seek to put individual vessel owners out of business,” Pike told the council in 2009. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Pike spoke of excess harvesting capacity and told NEFMC that the vessels are sitting in the water for most of the year. The coalition sought the stacking or leasing of only two similar permits, as well as the retention of the 5% ownership cap. The current campaign promotes similar principles.

In 2010, New Bedford owners, including Ray Starvish, Peter Anthony, Roy Enoksen and Ronald Enoksen (the latter three of Nordic and Eastern Fisheries) wrote to the council in support of leasing and stacking.

“Currently no one can own more than 5% of the permits and whether you stack or not, consolidation has taken place,” wrote Roy Enoksen, president of Eastern Fisheries. “I believe that stacking and leasing would make for a safer and better industry in the long run, but for those that do not want to stack or lease that is their right, this is an option.”

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Pike was paid about $50,000 for his lobbying in 2009 and 2010 for the coalition, though the federal filings do not list any of the organizations paying for it. When asked, he said a number of the people involved today were involved then.

By 2017, a new group formed, the East Coast Scallop Harvest Association (ECSHA), which initially proposed the council establish voluntary “associations” for the fishery, in which “annual harvest shares” would be allocated to groups of vessel owners who want to participate.

A 2017 presentation from ECSHA proposed the associations would “internally assign catch shares to their members per each association’s membership rules,” much like groundfish sectors.

The group also organized port meetings in 2018 along the coast to discuss issues in the limited access scallop fishery and how they could be addressed. Per reports from those meetings, some participants presented stacking and leasing as options.

The association subsequently grew, and according to lobbying disclosure forms for ECSHA, Blue Harvest, O’Hara Corporation, Compass Fishing Corp., Nordic Fisheries and Atlantic Cape Fisheries were affiliated organizations, defined as contributing more than $5,000 for the lobbying activity and either participating in, supervising or controlling it.

The disclosure forms listed lobbying for a specific bill and vaguely for regulatory matters on fishery management, for which ECSHA paid an estimated $190,000 between 2018 and 2020.

In 2019, ECSHA submitted a proposal to the council for a multi-year leasing pilot program. The following year, the Scallopers Campaign was established to continue advocating for leasing. Off the table was stacking, which is defined as the permanent transfer of allocations that would decrease the number of limited access scallop permits.

Some of the companies that were behind ECSHA are financially backing the lobbying for the current campaign: Atlantic Cape Fisheries, Blue Harvest, Nordic Fisheries and O’Hara Corporation. Pike noted, though, that Blue Harvest is no longer involved as it recently sold most of its scallopers.

For the Scallopers Campaign, the estimate is $20,000 paid so far this year (third quarter filings are not due until October). Federal lobbying disclosure law only requires estimates to the nearest $10,000 for quarterly income.

Lobbying took place before 2022 for the campaign. The Light previously requested how much companies and permit holders paid Pike; he said they did not want to share that figure.

No federal lobbying filings appear before 2022 for the Scallopers Campaign. A campaign representative provided a copy of a 2021 lobbying report that the representative subsequently said was unrelated to the campaign’s work. Not all lobbying activity meets reporting requirement thresholds under federal law, and as a result might not get reported.

The four lobbyists working with the campaign this year were successful in one of their listed aims, which regarded language in the Congressional Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies bills for fiscal year 2023 “related to the New England scallop fishery.”

“The Committee is encouraged that NOAA and the New England Fishery Management Council are exploring a leasing program for the Limited Access Sea Scallop fleet because of its beneficial climate impacts and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,” the FY2023 CJS appropriations committee report states. “The Committee believes this effort will decrease excess fishing capacity and consequently reduce port congestion in the Northeast. The Committee urges NOAA to continue collaborating with the Council on this effort.”

The Scallopers Campaign has repeatedly pointed to the port’s congestion as a safety issue for crew, as they may need to climb over several vessels to get to and from the dock and their vessel. Leasing, supporters say, would allow owners to scrap old vessels so crew could work on one vessel instead of needing to switch between two.

On getting rid of older vessels, advisory panel member Kirk Larson focused on “green energy,” stating leasing would help the industry get ahead of an inevitable push from the federal government for cleaner vessels amid climate change.

Outcome of scoping period

Massachusetts accounted for 42% of the comments gathered over the last few months. Most of the comments in support came from North Carolina, where one of the affiliated organizations with the lobbying, Fulcher Trawling, is based.

Source: NEFMC

In a comment breakdown by role, shoreside support and owners/managers supported leasing more, whereas crew and captains, as well as local elected officials, made up the opposition.

Common themes in the comments were safety, efficiency, flexibility, consolidation, shoreside business and communities.

Some fishermen expressed concern about who would bear the costs of a leasing program, drawing analogies to groundfish.

According to The Light’s investigation with ProPublica on private equity on the New Bedford waterfront, one settlement sheet showed Blue Harvest deducted about $3,300 from the groundfish captain and crew’s pay for a leasing charge.

Roy Branco, a scallop captain and former groundfish fisherman, recalled to the council his time in that fishery, stating that under leasing he had to work twice as hard to make the same amount of money, while owners made more money.

In response to concerns about groundfish and history repeating itself, Pike said the scallop fishery is not the groundfish fishery.

“The scallop resource is healthy; groundfish was not,” he told the advisory panel. “The leasing that goes on within sectors is not public. But [what] the Scallopers Campaign has put forward is that every transaction be transparent, that it be approved by NOAA Fisheries and that the public know about it.”

Decision due next week

The council is scheduled to vote on Tuesday, Sept. 27. The presentation from the scallop committee will start in the morning, but discussion of and a vote on leasing will likely not begin until the afternoon.

There may be space for final public comments before the council members cast their votes, though it is up to the discretion of the council chair.

Because its members did not reach a consensus, the scallop committee will have no recommendation to present to the full council. A few of the committee members also serve as council members. They were split in their votes on leasing, signaling the views they might express next week.

If a motion for leasing passes, the council will initiate the amendment drafting process. Council staff and those in the industry said it could take several years to develop a program.

In 2010, a proposal to allow leasing was defeated in a close 9-to-7 council vote, with one member abstaining. State Rep. Bill Straus and then-mayor of New Bedford Scott Lang attended and voiced their opposition. Pike said he does not expect anything different this time from Straus and perhaps Mayor Jon Mitchell, and ascribed the lost votes more than a decade ago to “New Bedford politics.”

“The mayor as you know said all the ownership of the scallop resource is gonna leave the city. Well, it already has,” Pike said. “New Bedford doesn’t own the scallop resource. It’s an East Coast resource from Maine to North Carolina.”

Members of the public can attend in person at the Beauport Hotel in Gloucester, or remotely by webinar. For more information on the meeting and how to register, visit

Editor's note: This story was amended on Sept. 23, 2022 to clarify that a 2021 lobbying report that was provided to The Light by the Scallopers Campaign was unrelated to the campaign's work on scallop leasing, according to a representative.

Email Anastasia E. Lennon at