Marine Resources Committee off to an ambitious start

ELLSWORTH — With Arctic temperatures chilling Maine, it’s difficult to focus on the state’s diverse fisheries. But in Augusta, the Marine Resources Committee had a wide range of proposed legislation scheduled for consideration this week.

On Tuesday, the committee scheduled public hearings on two bills submitted on behalf of the Department of Marine Resources. The first, LD1922, would establish a special commercial fishing license for menhaden. The other, LD1925, would make “technical changes” to current marine resources laws.

Also on tap are work sessions on a bill, LD1882, that would allow disabled veterans to get non-commercial, “five-trap” lobster and crab licenses without a fee and a legislative resolve to set up a commission to study the impacts of marine debris on the state’s “freshwater and coastal habitats and species.”

Rep. Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington) sponsored LD1922 on behalf of DMR to address possible changes in the way the menhaden fishery is managed.

Currently, any Maine fisherman with a commercial pelagic and anadromous fishing license issued by DMR is allowed to fish for menhaden. The proposed legislation would require a separate commercial menhaden license and sets two separate license categories.

The menhaden fishery is managed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), which sets an annual landings quota for the oily fish and allocates the total available catch among the coastal states from Florida to Maine. Unused quota may be transferred between states.

The menhaden management plan also allows an “incidental catch fishery” that lets a boat fishing “stationary multi-species gear,” such as a gill net, to land up to 12,000 pounds of menhaden daily.

According to McDonald, she has no particular interest in the bill but introduced it as a courtesy to DMR.

“Pat (DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher) told me ASMFC may decide to shut down the incidental fishery in the future, and the purpose of this bill is to give DMR the authority to create a two-license system for more flexibility in management,” McDonald said. “But he also said that decision is two years out, so I’m not sure why this bill is being put forth now.”

McDonald also said that the menhaden fishermen she has talked with are opposed to the DMR bill and that “they’re likely to turn out to speak against it” at the public hearing.

Another piece of legislation offered at the request of DMR, LD1925, deals primarily with the state’s $20-million-plus elver fishery.

Before the start of the fishing season in March, DMR allocates a portion of the state’s overall elver landings quota, established by the ASMFC, to each licensed fisherman. The individual quotas are based on past landings, and the minimum individual quota is 4 pounds. Each fisherman receives a magnetic swipe card from DMR similar to a pre-paid credit card that reflects the amount of the individual quota. The card must be presented whenever a fisherman sells elvers to a licensed dealer and “swiped” through an electronic terminal connected to DMR to provide real-time tracking of both individual and fishery-wide landings.

Fishermen are prohibited from landing or selling more than their assigned quota. The bill clarifies, according to DMR, that it is the amount of quota, not the weight of elvers, sold through the elver transaction card system that is used to determine whether an allocated quota has been exceeded.

The bill also clarifies that a person who holds a wholesale seafood license with a lobster permit may remove lobster meat from the shell under either a lobster processor license or a lobster meat permit and several provisions dealing with the renewal of DMR licenses that have been suspended by a court, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Administrative and Financial Services or the Maine Revenue Service.

Before the public hearings and work session, the Marine Resources Committee is scheduled to get a briefing from DMR on issues arising from the growth of “land-based aquaculture” in the state. Maine has long been home to several land-based salmon hatcheries, both private and federal. The University of Maine operates the Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research in Franklin. Recently, though, the state has seen several proposals for land-based commercial fish farms.

In Bucksport, work has begun on a proposed land-based recirculating aquaculture salmon farm to be built by Whole Oceans on the site of the former Verso paper mill located on the banks of the Penobscot River.

In Belfast, some members of the community continue to oppose a proposal by the Norwegian Nordic Aquafarms to build a similar facility off Route 1 on land bordering sections of the Little River. The company has yet to receive all of the required state environment permits for the project.

Last month, the Dutch company Kingfish Zeeland announced plans to build a land-based recirculating aquaculture facility in Jonesport to raise yellowtail, a high value food fish similar to amberjack. The company just announced that it had signed an agreement with UMaine to raised broodfish stock for the project.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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