AUGUSTA —A bill proposed by state Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham would eliminate a provision that bars commercial lobstermen from taking people out on educational charters to demonstrate how lobstering is done.
“Can you imagine that an opportunity exists to charter people on a vessel that demonstrates how lobstering is done, and the only people excluded under current law are real commercial lobstermen?” the Winter Harbor Republican asked the Committee on Marine Resources on April 13. “It’s only a matter of fairness that we correct this law and make provisions for commercial lobstermen to participate in this activity.”
The state has a harvesting demonstration license, but currently commercial lobster and crab license holders are not allowed to hold them.
Faulkingham saw the change as a way to create another revenue stream for an industry facing numerous threats.
“This will allow some fishermen, who choose to put in the effort and time, a way to diversify their income,” he said.
Dan Rogers, a Corea-based commercial lobsterman in favor of the bill, said this would allow him to give tours on Sundays or late Saturday afternoon, when the fishery is closed in summer.
“As much as the tourists enjoy the beautiful scenery our coast has to offer, it’s the actual hauling of the traps they’re really there to see,” he said.
Tours would be an excellent chance to educate tourists in Maine on how strict the conservancy regulations are as well, he said.
“I find it amazing how few people know how their lobster dinner actually gets from the ocean to their plate.”
The harvest demonstration license was originally made for people who don’t hold a commercial license, said Deirdre Gilbert, the director of marine policy at the Department of Marine Resources. Those educational tours were later allowed to haul traps on Sundays because of the short tour season.
With that allowance, the department wanted to avoid enforcement issues, leading to the ban on commercial lobstermen holding a demonstration license.
“We understand that this bill stems from commercial lobster license holders who would like to offer demonstration tours on Sundays and the department does not oppose offering this opportunity, we just want to ensure holding both of these licenses does not create any new enforcement challenges for marine patrol,” Gilbert said.
DMR asked that the existing boat trap limit remain the same for commercial lobstermen, even if they also obtained a demonstration license, and that demonstration buoys be significantly different from a lobsterman’s commercial ones.
Gilbert also requested that any violations on the demonstration license would also affect the commercial license.
No one publicly spoke out against the bill, and Deer Isle lobster boat captain Julie Eaton praised the proposed change.
“We are all asked many times to show people a little bit of our ocean world, a little bit of what it is like to be a lobsterman and how to catch a lobster,” she wrote in her testimony. “This could be the very best advertising we could ever have for our industry.”
The committee recommended that the bill ought to pass and planned to review the language of the bill after the suggestions from the DMR were incorporated.