News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, October 4, 2018 and The Weekly Packet, October 4, 2018
Trawl limit in Blue Hill Bay not an end to cross-zone fishing issue

Zone C Lobster Council meets

Zone C lobsterman Josh Hatch of Sedgwick discusses cross-zone fishing. On October 1 at Deer Isle-Stonington High School, members of the Zone C Lobster Council and lobstermen discussed cross-zone fishing issues and elected new officers.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

A possible compromise with Zone B lobstermen over the boundary lines of a new five-trap trawl limit occupied a Zone C lobster council meeting October 1, the day the rule went into effect. The trawl limit covers a Zone B that is also fished by Zone C license holders, about six miles off Frenchboro around Mt. Desert Rock. A Zone B-proposed boundary line change would move the trawl-limit area from the west side to the east side of the rock.

Zone B council initiated the trawl limit rule change because they “were getting boxed out by trawls,” Maine Department of Resources Lobster Council Liaison Sarah Cotnoir said, but they are willing to compromise on the proposed line change, specifically by Zone C raising its 1:1 exit-entry license ratio. A higher ratio would mean fewer Zone C license holders, equaling less Zone C lobstermen fishing Zone B waters.

“I’m just the messenger,” Cotnoir said.

Maine lobstermen may fish 49 percent of their traps in a different zone than they are licensed for, if those traps are tagged for both zones. Of the 940 Zone C lobstermen licensed in 2017, 200 purchased 68,118 tags for Zone B, a number Cotnoir said has been increasing by about 10,000 a year. Zone C lobstermen purchased 597,191 tags to fish in their own zone. In Zone B, 86 of the 520 license holders purchased 14,794 tags for Zone C.

The zone boundary lines, themselves, don’t always make sense, Zone C Council member David Tarr said, compared to where he fished 30 years ago. “Now I’m restricted by how many tags I have. … The lines were just convenient places where the state cut things up.”

Other Zone C lobstermen said compromising with Zone B now will only put further compromises in place in the future. “They will never be happy until every one of us is not in that zone,” noted one lobsterman, and his fellow lobstermen nodded in agreement.

Zone B may be “asking why Zone C has a say on fishing in Zone B,” as Cotnoir said, but some Zone C lobstermen don’t see an exit-entry ratio change as relevant to any compromise.

And beyond that, they see the 24 names on the Zone C waiting list as too long.

“I feel we were pushed to close the zone by DMR,” said Stonington lobsterman John Williams, who sits on the board of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. “Now I feel we’re [being] pushed to change the exit ratio. I pushed for the zone to be closed only if we had a 1:1 ratio.”

The zone voted in 2016 for a 1:1 ratio, effectively closing the last open lobstering zone in Maine, and must wait until 2019 to initiate any changes to the zone and the exit-entry ratio. The longest any lobsterman has been waiting on the list is under 11 months.

In comparison, there are 36 lobstermen on the Zone B waiting list, with the top third waiting since 2007 or 2008. Zone B uses a 3:1 exit-entry ratio.

Another compromise may be limiting secondary zone tags for new license holders, said Stonington lobsterman Genevieve McDonald, who is running to represent District 134 in Augusta, which encompasses islands in both zones. “I went to Swan’s Island, talked to fishermen,” she said. “They’re concerned about how many students we have coming up.”

In Zone C council elections, members elected Jake Thompson of Vinalhaven as council chairman, Sherm Hutchins of Stonington as vice chairman, and John McCarthy of Vinalhaven as secretary.