ELLSWORTH — More than 300 fishermen hold Maine sea urchin licenses, but just five of them showed up in Ellsworth last week for a Department of Marine Resources public hearing on proposed rules that would set the dates for the coming season and make harvesters use electronic swipe cards to report their landings on a daily basis.
While few in number, the harvesters were loud and unanimous in their opposition to the proposal that they use magnetically encoded cards similar to those used for the past two years in the elver fishery to record all of their sales to dealers. The dealers would be required to report all purchases to DMR on a daily basis, including data on the quantity of urchins purchased from each fisherman and the price paid for them. The transaction would also identify the individual harvester.
The objections were based primarily on two concerns: privacy and efficiency.
Lubec harvester Danny Jodway was concerned that data about his sales and income might become public.
“It’s between me and the IRS,” he told DMR Resource Manager Trisha Cheney.
Harvester Rodney Dame expressed mixed feelings about the swipe cards. Many of the people who buy urchins can barely speak English, he said, and might have trouble inputting landings data using the card reader. Nevertheless, he said, “I kind of like the idea that you guys are getting information (about the strong volume of landings) and won’t have to take any more conservation steps.”
Lubec urchin dragger Tracey Sawtelle, a member of DMR’s Sea Urchin Zone Council, said he was concerned that the card readers used by dealers might malfunction in bitter winter weather and fishermen might be stuck with the urchins they’d harvested.
“What happens if the machine isn’t working,” Sawtelle asked. “Can we sell them?
If not, he said, his urchins could freeze and become worthless.
“You can’t hold them over,” he said.
Harvesters are limited to landing seven totes (about 600 pounds) of urchins daily. If dealer’s card reader doesn’t work one day, how would the harvester sell urchins landed the next day?
“I don’t want to lose a day of fishing,” Sawtelle said. “You can’t keep making it harder and harder on the fishermen.”
Cheney assured the harvesters that DMR would use “a common sense approach” if problems developed with the card reader system.
Marine Patrol Officer Brent Chasse said that there had been no problems with the swipe cards used in the elver fishery.
“I haven’t had a single complaint from harvesters,” he said.
There was almost no comment on the length of the three regional split seasons.
In the western part of the state, Zone 1, the season will be 15 days long, the same as last year. In Zone 2, east of Penobscot Bay, the season will again be 38 days except far Downeast, in Whiting and Dennys bays, which will be open for just nine days.
In Zone 1, divers, rakers and trappers may choose to fish 15 days in either or December. Draggers may fish either in December and January or February and March.
In Zone 2, divers, rakers and trappers may choose to fish 38 days during the period October through December or December through March. Draggers could choose between seasons lasting from October through March or from December through March.
There are similar early and late seasons in the Whiting and Dennys bays limited access areas.
Harvesters are not free to choose which days to go fishing. Whichever season they choose, fishing days are set by DMR and shown on a calendar included in the proposed rule.
DMR will consider the comments from the public hearing in Ellsworth and another the previous evening in August before taking final action on the proposed rules.