DEER ISLE — Representative Walter Kumiega, whose district includes Southwest Harbor, Tremont, the Cranberry Isles, Frenchboro and Swans Island, was named House chair of the Marine Resources committee last week by speaker Mark Eves.
“I think that this is the place where I can do the work that most affects my district,” Kumiega said. This will be his second legislative session as committee chair. Linda Baker of Sagadahoc has been named the Senate chair of the committee.
Looking ahead to the committee’s work for the year, Kumiega said the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) does not plan to submit many new bills. He has submitted a few of his own, based on conversations with lobstermen, aimed at reducing wait times for new commercial lobster licenses. “They’re attempts to find a way to move the waiting list along faster,” he said. “It’s not working to have so many people on the waiting list for so long. Hopefully people will go along with (these ideas) or come up with a better plan.”
The first of his bills would allow the DMR commissioner to issue fewer trap tags to new license holders and adjust the ratio by which surrendered trap tags from a retiring fishermen may be issued to new entrants in closed zones. “It would mean more people could get in without increasing effort,” he said in reference to the overall number of traps being fished. “There’s only so much ocean out there. When you look at it in the summertime, there’s a lot of traps out there.”
Only those lobster management zones with limited entry programs have waiting lists. Kumiega’s district includes parts of lobster zones B and C. B is closed, meaning it’s limited entry, and C is open.
“A lot of people think it’s too crowded in Zone C,” he said. “If there are fewer tags going to each new entrant, that lowers the pressure, maybe they’ll keep it open so we do not get into this (waiting list) problem that every other zone has.”
A second bill would attempt to address latent effort – lobster trap tags sold to fishermen but not actually being fished. “It will make managing the fishery easier if you don’t have that spectre of all those traps being able to go into the water at any time,” he said.
He’s not advocating to take licenses away if they’re not being used, he said. Instead, his bill proposes that if a fishermen reports no landings in a given year, they may buy only 300 tags (rather than the current maximum of 800) for the following year. Also, a fishermen in this category, coming back into the fishery after a latent period, “would be like a new entrant. If there is a lower trap limit for new entrants, those people would be subject to it.”
Another bill would extend legal lobster fishing time to two hours before sunrise for the months of September and October. Currently, legal fishing starts half an hour before sunrise. “I’ve heard people that want to have more fishing time in September and October,” he said.
Kumiega also has a legislative commissioner’s seat on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Comimission’s American Eel Board, which sets quotas and other policy affecting Maine’s lucrative elver fishery. “It’s a joint appointment between the Senate president and the speaker of the House,” he said. “I serve in that position until I’m replaced. I’m hoping to continue.”