News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, October 11, 2012
Fishermen urge lobster license researchers “don’t fix what isn’t broken”

Penobscot East’s Carla Guenther

Penobscot East’s Carla Guenther talks about how zone councils work in Maine.

Photo by Jessica Brophy Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Jessica Brophy

A second Gulf of Maine Research Institute Limited License Entry study meeting was held on Wednesday, October 3, at the town hall in Stonington. The first was held on a gorgeous day in August at 10 a.m., with few attendees.

This time around, more than 25 lobstermen and other interested parties showed up to the meeting

Earlier this year, the state commissioned a study of Maine’s limited-entry lobster license system for the legislature to consider in January of 2013. The limited-entry system was created a decade ago, and in most zones there are long lists of people who have completed their apprenticeships and are waiting for a license. In this area, Zone C, there are no waiting lists—anyone who completes the apprentice program is able to get a license.

Alexa Dayton of the GMRI asked those present about the licensing system and what, if anything, should be done to change it.

“Open the rest of them,” said Donny Jones, referring to the other zones, where some on waiting lists will need to wait 50 years at the current pace to get a license. “Open them, and it’s the survival of the fittest.”

Several fishermen commented the introduction of new lobstermen into the waters is already “self-regulated” by those who are already fishing in the area.

Dayton asked what fishermen were worried about, in terms of licensing or other regulations. Darrell Williams said his fear was the legislature “doing something just for the sake of doing something.”

Jones agreed that it would be a problem if the state is going to “try to fix something that’s not broken.”

Several fishermen discussed the problem of the three-mile line, both in terms of how regulations apply up to and beyond it and how that line seems to shift. That line marks the boundary between state- and federal-regulated water. A federal permit is required to fish beyond the three-mile line.

In terms of what is working, those present generally agreed the apprentice program—which requires a certain number of days and hours working in the trade—was a good thing.

“I like that the apprentice program slows down the flow [of new lobstermen] coming in,” said Richard Larrabee Jr.

Ben Hardy said he thought it was good that people who want to fish have to be sponsored by someone who already has a license.

The group also talked about the zone councils, which have the power to set the entry-exit ratios for licensing. Some zones have a 3-to-1 ratio (meaning three licensees out to one in) and others have 5-to-1 ratio. All, however, measure those ratios in terms of trap tags out, rather than license holders out.

Scott Beede, a Zone B lobsterman from Aurora who has been on a waiting list since 2010, said in Zone B several license holders left in 2011, but since there weren’t 4,000 trap tags out (as a 5-to-1 ratio would require for one new license) no new licenses were granted in Zone B.

Beede also said his zone council was not interested in opening up the zone. “They don’t want anyone fishing,” said Beede.

Several Island fishermen thought the issue should be handled at the zone level; however, most of them said they did not regularly attend Zone C council meetings.

The group also discussed whether licenses should be transferable, either to family members or able to be sold to someone who wants to fish. While there was some support for family transferal, those present generally agreed that the ability to sell a license would result in a corporate fishing culture, where large businesses would own the licenses and price small operators out of the market.

The GMRI study concludes this month, said Dayton. Anyone who wishes to comment on the licensing system can call the dedicated phone line at 1-800-293-1538 ext. 335.