AUGUSTA — The Legislature is in full swing and next Monday, the Marine Resources Committee will hold a public hearing on a controversial bill that could significantly alter two Maine fisheries.
Rep. Robert Alley (D-Beals) is offering a bill (LD 115) that would ban dragging for mussels in any Washington County river and close Maine intertidal flats to worm harvesting from Dec. 1 through March 31. Last week, the Independent Maine Marine Worm Harvesters Association sent a mailing to all marine worm license holders soliciting their opinions on the proposal.
Judging from responses posted on the association’s Facebook page and elsewhere online, there is little support for a closed season and a divided opinion on the dragging ban.
A few harvesters commented on Facebook that a four-month closure could cost Maine diggers the opportunity to ship worms to the busy European bait market during the winter. When digging resumed in the spring, they said, there would be little incentive for European buyers to come back into the Maine worm market. That could leave harvesters and dealers with an oversupply of worms for the domestic market, and that could reduce prices.
Several other worm harvesters chimed in on the issue, mentioning that in addition to potentially depressing prices, the closure would come at a time of year when living expenses go up and many diggers have few options to replace the lost income.
Opinion appeared to be more fractured on the dragging ban, with some harvesters voicing objections to more restrictions on fishing and others urging that the ban on mussel dragging extend statewide.
The Marine Resources Committee has scheduled a public hearing on the bill in room 206 of the Cross Building in Augusta on Monday, Feb. 13, at 10 a.m. Representatives of the Independent Maine Marine Worm Harvesters Association are expected to testify on the bill.
Later in the day, the committee is slated to hold a public hearing on a bill (LD 286) that would set the number of elver fishing licenses issued each year at 425, excluding licenses issued to the states four federally recognized Indian tribes. The bill also would require the commissioner of marine resources to establish an annual lottery for elver licenses to open up the fishery to people who did not hold a license in the previous year.
The bill also would set a minimum individual allocation of elvers quota of four pounds unless that would total more than the overall annual quota set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. On its Facebook page, the Maine Elver Fishermen Association reported that the organization’s board of directors supports the bill.