By Penelope Overton
Portland Press Herald
ROCKLAND — The owner and operator of a Rockland herring boat, one of his crew and a local wholesale seafood dealer are facing charges of exceeding their quota for the popular lobster bait at a time when fishing regulators are trying to rebuild the stock.
Glenn Robbins, a 72-year-old third-generation fisherman from Eliot, is charged with exceeding the weekly limit of 160,000 pounds of herring and trying to hide it from the Maine Department of Marine Resources by failing to file accurate landings reports.
“These violations are nothing short of a blatant disregard of the rules,” said DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher. “Mr. Robbins has attended many herring management meetings over the years to speak to the need to protect this industry from overfishing. … This is disappointing, to say the least.”
The 104-foot Western Sea sails out of Rockland. The seiner can hold up to 300,000 pounds of herring at a time, caught using two nets that encircle a school and scoop them up. Robbins used to own a trawler, but gave it up and has spoken out against them, saying they were depleting the stock.
“They’re on the bottom of the food chain,” Robbins told The New York Times in 2012 in a story about efforts to stop midwater trawling. “Everything eats the herring — the whales, the mammals, the birds. If you don’t have a good stock of herring, nothing else is going to stick around.”
Another operator of the Western Sea, 42-year-old Ethan Chase of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was cited for failure to properly notify DMR before landing and for exceeding the weekly harvest limit in September by over 110,000 pounds, all of which was seized by the Marine Patrol.
Maine herring regulations require vessels like the Western Sea to send an email to DMR three hours before landing to identify themselves and their total catch so the state can confirm the landings. This is how Maine makes sure that its fleet has not exceeded regional fishing quotas.
The Marine Patrol found Western Sea failed to warn DMR twice, and both times exceeded its weekly limit.
DMR also cited wholesale seafood dealer Dustin Reed, owner of New Moon Fisheries in Friendship, for failure to report the herring that he bought from Robbins and for conducting the transaction without a herring dealer permit.
The three are facing fines of up to $100 per violation, but the bigger penalty could be losing their right to fish and buy or sell fish. Keliher has the authority to suspend licenses for failure to comply with reporting requirements and exceeding fishing quotas.
Robbins said he doesn’t think the citation is fair and is working with the state to resolve it, The Associated Press reported. Phone calls to numbers listed in the other two men’s names were not returned, according to the AP.
A failure to crack down on violators could hurt Maine’s chances at lobbying for a bigger herring quota with the regional fishing regulators that monitor the stock and set state-by-state landing limits. Such agencies look at state compliance when evaluating state quota requests.
The New England Fishery Management Council voted last year to set the 2019 herring quota at 32.1 million pounds – about 78 million pounds less than what the East Coast herring fleet was permitted to catch in 2018 – to help the population recover from a record-low number of juvenile herring.
Maine’s $485 million-a-year lobster industry relies on the availability of affordable bait to lure shedding lobsters into their traps. Those who fish out of smaller ports worry about the availability of herring, a traditional favorite among lobstermen, and what a shortage could mean for bait prices.
The Maine Lobstermen’s Association has predicted a 50 million-pound bait shortage in 2019, but cold weather forced a late start to the lobster season and state approval of new kinds of bait that could serve as a herring alternative have helped to avert a full-blown bait crisis.