AUGUSTA — Maine’s 2016-2017 sea urchin season will be a repeat of last season in terms of the number of fishing days and daily landing limits. But state regulators are launching a new swipe card system to track the activity of harvesters and dealers.
The Department of Marine Resources (DMR) hopes the system will create efficiencies for fishermen, dealers and DMR staff. They also hope it will support efforts to keep the fishery sustainable.
By automating required weekly dealer reports, previously done on paper, “swipe cards reduce the chance of human error which can occur when transcribing landings information,” said Trisha Cheney, DMR resource management coordinator for sea urchins.
Similar to the system used in the elver fishery, each time urchin harvesters sell their product, they swipe their card in the dealer’s card reader. The dealer enters the sales information into a computer loaded with customized reporting software.
Each transaction, including the harvester’s information encoded on a magnetic strip on the back of the card and the pounds and price entered by the dealer, will be uploaded from the dealer computer to a secure server accessed by DMR managers.
“My intent in expanding the use of the swipe card system is to ensure the accurate and timely landings information which is crucial to the successful management of Maine’s commercial fisheries,” DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said. “This is especially important in a fishery like this, which was once the second most valuable in Maine.”
Beginning in the 1980s, Maine sea urchin landings began to rise dramatically with the development of a market in Japan. The rising demand prompted increased fishing pressure. By 1995, there were 1,840 licensed harvesters who landed 34.2 million pounds valued at more than $35 million, behind only lobster in value for wild harvested fisheries.
The increasing pressure on the resource resulted in a prohibition on new licenses, which is still in place. In 2015, Maine’s 305 urchin harvesters landed 1.5 million pounds valued at $4.3 million dollars.
“When managers must rely on insufficient or outdated information, it forces them to be more precautionary in their approach, Cheney said. “By providing managers with more timely and accurate data, the new urchin swipe card system will improve our understanding of the fishery, allowing for more targeted measures, which could mean more harvesting opportunity in the future.”
“The DMR has had great success with the swipe card system in the elver fishery. This technology has helped Maine ensure the future of that important fishery,” Keliher said. “We anticipate that the swipe card system will also support efforts to restore and sustain Maine’s urchin fishery.”
In July, the DMR set the dates for the upcoming 2016-2017 urchin fishing season.
In Zone 1, west of Penobscot Bay, there will be a 15-day season for divers, trappers, rakers and draggers, the same number of days as in the 2015-2016 season. Divers, rakers and trappers may fish 15 days in September (early season) or 15 days in December (late season). Draggers may fish either in December (early season) or February and March (late season).
In Zone 2, from Penobscot Bay east, the 38-day season is also the same length as last year’s. Divers, rakers and trappers may use their days either from September through December (early season) or December through March (late season). Draggers will be able to fish 38 days from October through March or from November through March.
There is a nine-day season, unchanged from last year, for the Whiting and Dennys Bays Limited Access Area in Zone 2.
Divers, trappers and rakers from Zone 2 may fish either in November and December or in January, February and March.
Draggers would have nine days in December, February and March.
The particular days on which fishing will be allowed in all of the zones were recommended to Keliher by the DMR Sea Urchin Zone Council.