BAR HARBOR — Area fishermen on the Zone B waiting list for a commercial lobster license have reason to hope their wait will soon get shorter.
A referendum ballot is set to be mailed this month to all lobster license holders in the zone, which includes Frenchman Bay and waters around Mount Desert Island. It will ask if fishermen favor switching the exit/entry ratio for new licenses here from 5:1 to 3:1. Currently, five licenses must be surrendered or retired for each new license issued to someone on the list.
The zone council will meet next when the results of the referendum are in and then vote on the proposal, which would be a Department of Marine Resources rule change.
“I expect we’ll go with the results of the referendum,” council Chair David Horner said at last week’s zone council meeting.
A public hearing and approval by the commissioner also are required for the rule change to take effect. The vote must be taken by written referendum, DMR lobster coordinator Sarah Cotnoir told the meeting, rather than an in-person town meeting-style vote. The DMR also cannot compel license holders to vote.
The waiting list is also set to get trimmed down following approval by the legislature’s Marine Resources Committee of LD 1503. If it’s passed by the full legislature later this spring, everyone on the waiting lists who already has a license in another zone would be taken off the list. The DMR agreed to come up with an alternate procedure for these zone “transfers” through the rulemaking process. In Zone B, 11 of the 56 people on the waiting list are transfers.
A provision in the bill requiring zones to use licenses rather than trap tags as the “currency” for the exit/entry ratio was struck in the final committee work session. Instead, zones using tags will use a fisherman’s historical maximum number of tags rather than the number of tags bought the year before retirement.
The provision doesn’t affect Zone B, which voted two years ago to use licenses for the calculation. “The change to licenses is too new to know what effect it will have,” Horner said.
LD 1503 also would extend the deadline for young people to complete their apprenticeship and get a commercial license from age 18 to age 20. Students who prove they are attending school can complete their apprenticeship before age 23, enabling more people to get further education without having to give up the chance to lobster for a living.
“I’m glad all of us could agree on a way forward,” said Rep. Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle), co-chair of the Marine Resources Committee and the bill’s sponsor, in a statement. “This has been a contentious problem for a long time, and lobsters are so central to Maine’s economy. This bill starts breaking the logjam and building a better, faster licensing system while preserving the livelihoods of active lobstermen and preventing overfishing.”