Elver timing change backed

AUGUSTA — When the elver season opens this spring, fishermen will likely have a little more fishing time than they did in the 2015 season.

A bill in the legislature to provide flexibility in a required 48-hour closed period, LD 1502, received support from the Maine Elver Fishermen Association and the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) at a hearing before the Marine Resources committee last week. No one spoke in opposition to the bill, House chair Rep. Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) said. He sponsored the bill along with Sen. Brian Langley (R-Hancock County).

By federal regulation, Maine must maintain a 48-hour fishing closure each week to give the juvenile eels, commonly known as elvers, a chance to pass upstream unfettered on their spring journey from the sea to their spawning grounds in Maine’s streams, lakes and ponds. The closed period is now set by statute and runs from Friday at noon to Sunday at noon each week.

“The bill proposes to allow the DMR to set the 48-hour closed period prior to each season through rule-making,” Commissioner Patrick Keliher said in his testimony in support of the bill. This would “allow for consideration of the calendar and the tides, to select the closed period that will cause the least adverse impact to the industry (though for enforcement reasons, it will need to be the same 48-hour period each week).”

Rep. Will Tuell (R-East Machias) said, “Elver fishermen and women had a brutal winter last year. Weather is what it is, and you can’t change it, but you sure can adapt to it, make the laws less burdensome and allow DMR and the elver fishing community … to adapt.”

Keliher offered to seek clarity with the federal Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission at a meeting next month on “whether a closed period is really necessary, given that the fishery is now managed through a quota.” If the closed period is no longer necessary, he said, the bill could be amended to say the commissioner may suspend the closed period entirely.

Some fishermen hope to see the season extended further into the spring. Keliher said the elver season requires a lot of Marine Patrol resources, so extending the season more than a week past the current end date would be difficult.

Keliher also told the committee about an agreement in the works with the Passamaquoddy Tribe over elver fishing rights. Under the draft agreement provided in his testimony, the tribe is allocated 1,356 pounds of elvers for the 2016 season for all its commercial license holders combined. The entire catch must be sold to licensed elver dealers.

Sustenance fishing would not be allowed. The statutory prohibition on fyke nets in the St. Croix River and its tributaries would be removed.

Kumiega said the committee is hopeful for an agreement with the tribe and tabled the bill for two weeks, expecting an amendment from the DMR following discussions with tribal leadership.

Ocean acidification

Also before the Marine Resources committee last week was LD 493, sponsored by Rep. Mick Devin (D-Newcastle) and Langley, among others. The legislation would establish an Ocean Acidification Council to act on the 2014 recommendations of the Commission to Study the Effects of Coastal and Ocean Acidification created by the 126th Legislature in 2013.

Devin is the laboratory manager at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center.

The commission, composed of scientists, fishermen, aquaculturists, environmentalists and representatives of the DMR, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, met more than a half-dozen times in the summer and fall of 2014 and filed a 120-plus-page report filled with recommendations about how the state might address the perceived impact of rising levels of acidification in the Gulf of Maine and the state’s nearshore waters.

The commission said that its recommendations, while “not refined or prioritized,” might serve as the “starting point for further conversations” about the acidification of Maine’s waters.

Although it is hard to point to specific evidence of growing acidity in the Gulf of Maine, the consensus among most scientists who have studied the questions is that the ocean is growing more acidic everywhere.

Monitoring buoys in the Gulf of Maine have recorded an increase in CO2 levels of about 1.25 parts per million — some 0.3 percent — per year in the gulf since they were installed in 2007.

That’s bad news, or could be, for Maine’s lobster fishermen and shellfish harvesters. Animals that rely on external shells are particularly susceptible to increasing ocean acid levels.

Devin’s bill would establish a 16-member council, with membership similar to the commission’s, that would review the data on ocean acidification, indentify and monitor the factors contributing to the problem and “implement the recommendations” of the 2014 report. The council would also serve as an advisory body to the governor and the legislature on issues relating to ocean acidification.

Reporter Stephen Rappaport contributed to this report

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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