A Bar Harbor lobster boat heads toward the municipal pier on a recent morning to pick up another load of traps. The dozens of fishermen on a waiting list for a license to fish in the local zone have seen the list get a little shorter. ISLANDER PHOTO BY EARL BRECHLIN

Limited-entry waiting list shortens

BAR HARBOR — Fishermen on the Zone B commercial lobster and crab license waiting list have been bumped up several slots following last year’s council decision to amend the exit ratio for its limited-entry system. The Lobster Zone B Management Council heard that good news last Tuesday during a regular council meeting.

Council members last year amended the exit ratio from one license issued for every five licenses retired to one license issued for every three licenses retired to help speed up the licensing process. Zone B is one of the most restrictive zones. Some people have been on the list for more than 10 years.

Currently, there are 37 names on the list.

Another reason licensees have moved forward on the list was because of the Department of Marine Resources’ (DMR) decision to make two limited-entry waiting lists: one for local fishermen without licenses and another for those with a current license attempting to transfer to a different zone. That rule came into effect this spring.

There are now four licensees from Zone A and eight licensees from Zone C on a transfer list to get into Zone B, said DMR lobster council liaison Sarah Cotnoir.

This list is established with a one-for-one swap, meaning a fisherman in any given zone would need to transfer his or her license before someone on the transfer waiting list can swap zones. The DMR will authorize any such swaps annually until there are no matches remaining.

Cotnoir also provided an update on the status of bills in the Legislature that would have an impact on the lobster fishery.

LD 149, a bill proposed by Rep. Brian Hubbell (D-Bar Harbor) that would have amended the state’s current second zone tagging system, is dead following a lack of Marine Resources Committee support.

Hubbell proposed a laundry list of changes on behalf of fishermen in Zone B in hopes that it would alleviate a territorial battle that has been raging along the boundary line of zones B and C.

Tensions between lobster license holders who fish on the B/C border came to a head last summer when a trap-cutting war resulted in vandalism to and losses of gear estimated to be worth more than $350,000.

To Zone B fishermen, that tension stems from the fact that Zone C was, until recently, wide open – anyone who wanted to lobster fish could get a license. Because state regulations allow up to 49 percent of a fisherman’s gear to be set in a second zone, that left Zone B with crowded fishing grounds along the border.

Hubbell’s bill would have eliminated second zone tagging for any new commercial license holders but would have allowed those currently with second zone tags to continue to fish in two zones.

Hubbell’s fellow legislators were concerned with the fact that the bill would have impacted the entire lobster fishery and not just license holders in zones B and C, said Cotnoir.

Lobster forecast

Kathleen Reardon, a senior lobster biologist with the DMR, provided the council with an update on recent research and data collection about the lobster fishery and its future outlook.

A 2017 University of Maine forecast shows lobster landings declining slowly over the next decade.

One model shows that in the next five years, landings in Zone B could drop to around 15 million pounds. In 2016, a record 18.1 million pounds were landed.

“It’s more optimistic than before, but it still predicts a decline,” Reardon said.

Reardon said that this could be due to a number of factors that mostly have to do with the warming waters in the Gulf of Maine.

One reason could be that lobster larvae are not getting enough phytoplankton to grow. The university’s American Lobster Settlement Index suggests that there are more larvae than before but fewer settlers. Settlers are young lobsters that drop to the bottom to continue to grow.

“It’s a red flag,” said Reardon. “I am not saying the sky is falling, but it’s something we want to keep an eye on.”

On a positive note, Reardon said that the number of lobster shell disease cases in Zone B is less than one in 1,000.

Taylor Bigler Mace

Taylor Bigler Mace

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Taylor covers sports and maritimes for the Islander. As a native of Texas, she is an unapologetic Dallas Cowboys fan. [email protected]
Taylor Bigler Mace

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