BAR HARBOR — A plan to ban trap trawls longer than five traps each in an offshore area is headed to the rulemaking process in the Department of Marine Resources after a referendum question sent to lobster license holders in the area came back with more than two-thirds support for the idea.
The draft rule was set to be published Wednesday, and a public hearing is set for Tuesday, May 22, at 5 p.m. at Ellsworth High School.
At the Zone B council meeting last Wednesday at Mount Desert Island High School, the results of the vote taken earlier this year by mail were presented. Of the ballots mailed to 518 Zone B license holders, 149 responses were returned to the department by the deadline. Seventy-two percent of respondents voted “yes” on the question “Do you support implementing a 5-trap trawl maximum in Zone B from the six-mile line to the 25675 line?”
Zone B stretches from the southernmost end of Newbury Neck to Schoodic Point and out past the boundary between state- and federally managed waters and past Mount Desert Rock.
The proposal is to allow a maximum of five traps on a trawl in more of that area, south to a straight line marked at 675 in the loran navigation system. Currently, longer trawls are allowed there, and federal whale protection rules mandate a five-trap minimum in some of it.
As fishermen have pushed into deeper water in recent years, the area in question has seen tensions between those with different fishing practices. Some fish five or fewer traps on a trawl — a string sharing one vertical line to the surface — and some fish longer trawls. It’s been difficult to fish both methods “on top of each other,” they said.
“This is a buildup of a couple years of people being frustrated,” said Richard Howland, who represents Northeast Harbor and the Cranberry Isles on the council. Fishermen from neighboring Zones A and C are increasingly also fishing in the area. They’re allowed to fish up to 49 percent of their traps outside of their home zone.
“We’ve all given up bottom,” another fisherman said at the meeting. “At least” with a ban on longer trawls, he said, “we can all fish together.”
The area in question also is near the track used by cruise ships. Steve Philbrook of Islesford, who opposed the trawl ban, suggested the council work with the Coast Guard and harbor pilots to change the cruise ship track. “It would be a win-win,” he said. “If we’re forced to fish fives in this area, it’s essentially a closed area.”
Council members voted unanimously to send the proposal to the Department of Marine Resources rulemaking process. Following the public hearing, DMR Commissioner Pat Keliher will decide whether to implement the proposed rule.
The council initially thought it would be simpler to make the proposed change. They thought the trawl ban would go to rulemaking after a unanimous council vote in November.
But at a special meeting in December, Keliher told the group “we need to send it to a referendum and have two-thirds majority of the Zone B license holders in favor of it for it to pass,” the minutes of that meeting say. “This creates some uproar as people wonder why this wasn’t the case when we banned trawls in a small area on the western side of the zone in 2016.”
Not sending that change to referendum before implementing it was a mistake, Keliher said.