LAMOINE — Seated behind the desk in his office, boatbuilder Stewart Workman seemed pretty relaxed for a businessman with a big problem that seems to be growing worse.
Workman owns SW Boatworks, the builder of some of the most popular boats used in the Maine lobster fleet. The company’s boats, drawn by two iconic Downeast designers — Calvin Beal Jr. and Ernest Libby Jr. — range from 30 to 50 feet in length.
Over the past couple of years, as more of the lobster fishery has moved into deeper waters farther from land, Workman’s customers have been looking at the biggest boats he can build, but he is finding it difficult to satisfy their needs. The reason is simple.
“There are no engines available that are big enough to safely operate our (biggest) boats offshore,” Workman said recently.
A few miles up the road in Surry, boatbuilder Steve Wessel said his company, Wesmac Custom Boats, has the same problem.
“I’ve got 54-, 55-, 57-foot boats to build, and I’m restricted to 803 horsepower,” Wessel said early this month. “This is creating havoc among customers and builders.”
According to Peter Emerson, a product support specialist from diesel engine supplier Mack Boring & Parts Co., the reason there are no engines is that a set of Environmental Protection Agency emissions requirements that went into effect late last year make it virtually impossible to equip the kind of boats used in the lobster fishery with engines larger than 805 horsepower.
To get more horsepower, Emerson said, would require the use of engines with displacement — a measure of the total volume of the engine cylinders — in the 12- to 24-liter (about 732 to 1,465 cubic inches) range. The emissions control equipment required to make those engines compliant with the “Tier 4” requirements that became effective last year is too large, too complex and too expensive to use in lobster boats.
“The engine manufacturers’ assessment was that 12- to 24-liter engines,” the size range most common in Maine lobster boats, “were too technically challenging and expensive to develop,” Emerson said.
Fishermen are the customers who are feeling the pinch. The new emission rule exempts non-commercial vessels.
The development problems are compounded, he added, by the “unique” design of the classic Maine lobster boat.
It wasn’t all that long ago that a 32- to 35-foot boat was considered a pretty good size and boatbuilders such as Glen Holland, Richard Duffy, the Young Brothers and others sold lots of boats in that size range.
In the past several years, many believe as a consequence of warming waters in the Gulf of Maine, much of the lobster fishery has moved into deeper waters. Fishermen who set their gear far offshore wanted bigger boats that can work in rougher waters, carry more gear and get them home for dinner.
Maine boatbuilders like Workman and Wessel began building hulls that met that demand powered by big engines that complied with more lenient Tier 3 emissions requirements.
“A 12-knot boat is not what these guys want,” Workman said.
One unique thing about Downeast lobster boats is that, while the hulls grew longer and wider, they did not grow very much deeper.
A 34-footer built by SW to an older design is 13 feet wide and draws 3 feet 10 inches. A newly designed 42-footer, 8 feet longer and 2 feet wider, is only 4 inches deeper.
Wesmac’s 36-footer draws just over 4 feet. The company’s 50-footer, displacing more than three times as much, draws just 6 feet.
According to Emerson, there just isn’t room in the characteristically shallow lobster boat hull to install the treatment equipment necessary reach Tier 4 emission levels. The equipment requires a separate tank to collect “diesel exhaust fluid,” though there is nowhere on the Maine shore to dispose of the waste product. The process also involves a catalytic converter that generates so much heat that it would likely kill lobsters stored in below-deck live tanks.
Another problem: boats could not use the now-common wet exhaust system because of the risk of corrosion in the catalyst if it were exposed to seawater.
The engine shortage is having some unintended consequences.
“It’s forcing honest, hardworking fishermen to search for loopholes,” Wessel said.
Because the rules don’t apply to boats with keels laid before a cutoff date, some fishermen “take old boats, cut the keels off and build new boats on them,” Wessel said. Some engine companies, he said “stockpiled” keels before the cutoff to use in new boat construction.
“I want to play by the rules,” he said. “I will play by the rules.”
Those rules are forcing Wessel to do something he’s never done before — consider using twin engines in his boats, despite the fact that twin engines, and the twin propellers they turn, can make it difficult for lobstermen to haul and set their traps, “I have three fishermen talking about twin-screw and I’m building the first twin 50-footer now.”
Workman said he had fishermen interested in buying a 50-foot model from him, but he is reluctant to incur the expense of building a mold for a boat that will necessarily be underpowered.
“I guess if they want a 50-foot boat they’ll have to slow down,” he said.
Last winter, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association wrote to then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt asking the agency to maintain the less restrictive Tier 3 emission requirements for the useful life engine displacing between 12 and 32 liters installed in a single-engine lobster boat displacing no more than about 80,000 pounds.
Currently, Wesmac’s largest boat, a 54-footer, displaces about 55,000 pounds.
In addition to the problems relating to lack of space for the necessary emission control equipment, the MLA cited statistics showing that, while the typical lobster boat operated for 12 hours per day, just four hours were spent “steaming,” with the engine operating at about 65 percent load, while the balance was spent idling at less than 20 percent load, producing lower emissions.
Late last month, members of Maine’s congressional delegation and the EPA held discussions about the impact of Tier 4 on the lobster industry.
There was, Emerson said, “no clear statement yet,” about the issue, but “we should be able to check the EPA fall and winter agenda soon” to see whether there has been any progress.