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Ted Hoskins talks fishing in front of Penobscot East Resource Center’s table at 38th Annual Maine Fishermen’s Forum on Saturday, March 2.
DMR Resource Coordinator Sarah Cotnoir and Commissioner Pat Keliher at the 38th Annual Maine Fishermen’s Forum on Saturday, March 2.
A crowd of fishermen and others in the lobster industry gather in a conference room at the Samoset Resort in Rockport on Saturday, March 2 to hear DMR Commissioner Pat Keliher speak.
Marianne La Croix of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council speaks about marketing efforts at a session at the 38th Annual Maine Fishermen’s Forum on Saturday, March 2.
Patrice McCarron, Executive Director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, discusses marketing and promotion of lobster.
by Jessica Brophy
During the 2012 lobster season, shedder landings were early and record low boat prices were paid to harvesters. The Maine Department of Marine Resources and its commissioner, Pat Keliher, started a conversation about potential emergency or short-term measures to prevent or lessen a second summer of low boat prices. Suggestions for slowing the catch in the summer in hopes of raising the boat price ranged from changing the gauge size during summer months to limiting days out or putting a curfew on how late in the day a boat could fish.
Currently, the DMR and the commissioner have no authority to react to market-related situations. Any authority to implement emergency measures would need to be granted by the state legislature.
In a presentation on Saturday, March 2, at the 38th Annual Fishermen’s Forum in Rockport, Keliher announced the DMR is not seeking to implement any of the changes discussed during the summer of 2012 and during a series of 16 public meetings in January up and down the coast.
“I knew we were only going to do [emergency measures] with a trigger mechanism,” said Keliher. That might include water temperature, evidence of an early shed and big, early landings, he said.
“At the end of the day, I knew we weren’t going to do anything about four meetings in,” said Keliher of the series of January meetings. “But I wanted to hear what people had to say.”
Keliher said more than 1,600 people altogether attended those meetings. “I was seeking input from the industry, and I got it,” he said. “Some I didn’t even ask for.”
Keliher said he and the staff of the DMR are going to “keep an open mind” and see what happens this spring and summer.
Early readings of water temperatures are not boding well for the industry, said Keliher. It might be possible to bring emergency legislation late in the session if it appears to be needed, said Keliher, but the DMR does not have any plans to implement any industry changes to address a potential repeat of last summer.
The tiered lobster licensing system proposed by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and tweaked by the DMR is “not ready for prime time yet,” said Keliher.
The proposed system came out of a GMRI study of the current lobster licensing system that was commissioned, in part, to deal with the long waiting lists in other zones in the state. Another problem is how to reduce the amount of latent effort in the fleet—that is, how many purchased trap tags are not fished. However, the major goal of a new licensing system, said Keliher, is to implement a licensing system that could react if the lobster resource declined quickly.
“The one thing everyone could agree on in these meetings is when I asked ‘do you think the resource will grow forever?’” said Keliher. “Everyone agreed we would eventually see a downturn.”
The proposed new license system would lessen latent effort by categorizing license holders by their best year of landings from 2008-2011. There would be three tiers, a 50 trap tier, a 400 trap tier and an 800 trap tier. Any fisherman who has landed poundage more than the 25th percentile would be set at 800 traps. Those who landed less than that 25th percentile during those years, but still landed something at least one year, would be placed in the 400-trap tier. License holders who did not land any lobster between 2008-11 would be allowed to fish 50 traps.
Keliher said there were specific concerns voiced by fishermen about the proposed system, particularly about impacts on students and a concern that it might increase gear in water and in turn, landings.
The original legislative intent of closing zones and the waiting lists was to limit increased effort, said Keliher. “We thought, three, four, five years on a wait list,” said Keliher. “But now it’s a 20, 30 or 40 year wait. That was never the intent.”
Keliher said the department is going to take feedback on the system into account and work on the proposed change, which is likely to include more public meetings.
The meeting also discussed the $3 million marketing plan, which will be coming before the Legislature this session. Keliher said he heard strong support for the bill, with the exception of one community meeting in Scarborough.
A fisherman in the audience thanked the commissioner for holding meetings and “talking to us, not at us.” Several other audience members agreed.
“From a personal perspective, it’s the most gratifying work I’ve done,” said Keliher.