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Deer Isle, Isle au Haut and Stonington, Maine.
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by Jessica Brophy
During its annual meeting, members of the Downeast Lobstermen’s Association welcomed guest speaker Glenn Robbins, who spoke to the group about the problem trawlers pose for lobstermen and potential damage they cause to the herring population.
Robbins spoke to the group on Thursday, January 10, at Jasper’s Restaurant in Ellsworth. Robbins, who said he is a lobsterman part of the year and a herring purse seiner other parts of the year, now lives in Kittery but said as a young man he fished in Stonington and his seiner—the F/V Western Sea—fishes out of Rockland.
Robbins, who trawled briefly for a few years, said the problem is immediate. While official numbers haven’t been released, Robbins said he has heard that this year, the herring quota will be up substantially, likely from 23,000 metric tons to 40,000 metric tons. This will likely be good news for lobstermen in terms of bait availability, but bad news for lobstermen (and the herring population) as trawlers will likely be around for months instead of just a few weeks. Robbins said mid-water trawling eats up a lot more gear than purse seining does and could have a much bigger impact on lobster fishermen.
Robbins said his primary concern is the health of the herring population. In his opinion, mid-water trawlers do damage to the bottom, damage to other species and haul in massive amounts of fish quickly, often before they’ve spawned, said Robbins.
“I know their way of fishing isn’t good,” said Robbins.
Robbins is currently working with Terry Stockwell, director of External Affairs at the Department of Marine Resources, to put together some sort of plan. Robbins is slated to speak to the Maine Lobstermen’s Association about the issue in April.
Robbins asked DELA to support the effort to restrict or ban trawling. The group voted to offer its support to the effort.
DELA talks lobster
Other conversation centered around the Department of Marine Resources’ series of meetings up and down the coast. The DMR is discussing potential changes to the lobster licensing system, a new marketing program and implementing an emergency measure for times of crisis like last summer which could include restricting fishing to three days per week with an early curfew.
“Next year might be a whole new year,” said Norbert Lemieux of Cutler. Lobsters only go to market once, said Lemieux, and fall catch was quite high. “I don’t want to jump the gun.”
Several members of DELA also expressed concern over the potential emergency measures the DMR might put in place, particularly restricting fishing days out. “When you start limited days, you’re going to take common sense out of fishing,” said Lemieux.
Topics also included low boat price and the potential impact of a new generic marketing program for Maine lobster. There was some concern that even if marketing improved demand, any benefit would be only to dealers and not to the harvesters. There was also concern that any costs dealers pay toward the program would be passed on to fishermen, so that fishermen would, in effect, be paying for the entire program.
DELA business included a discussion of how to attract new members. Currently, DELA has about 300 dues members, but many more follow DELA’s Facebook page. Without more members paying dues, rates may need to be raised to cover organization costs. Suggestions included recruiting at various co-ops, and looking into some fundraising. Treasurer Mike Dassatt said there aren’t many young lobstermen who attend meetings or join associations.
For more information about DELA, visit downeastlobstermen.org.