AUGUSTA — The legislature’s Marine Resources Committee has rolled up its sleeves for a second work session on lobster licensing changes and has sent a bill about elver fishing to the full legislature for a vote.
The committee room was packed at a public hearing on the lobster bill Feb. 10 and again last week for a first work session, committee House Chair Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) said Monday. Another work session was set for Feb. 24.
The committee had asked Department of Marine Resources (DMR) Commissioner Patrick Keliher to bring back to the first work session some calculations of how proposed changes to the student lobster license program and lobster license waiting lists would affect the industry.
“There was a lot to it. People had a lot of ideas,” Kumiega said. “It feels like we kind of found a direction.”
The committee is considering making several changes, he said.
One of the primary goals of the bill was to shorten the waiting list for a license in zones with limited entry programs. A new provision may be added to the bill to remove anyone on the waiting list who already has a license in another zone. A new system would need to be set up for those fishermen wishing to transfer between zones, Kumiega said, perhaps in the DMR rulemaking process.
The bill proposes extending the student program to age 23, but it may be revised to age 21.
The bill proposes requiring each lobster management zone to calculate the number of new licenses to issue each year by the number of licenses retired rather than the number of trap tags associated with those licenses. Now, Kumiega said, they’re leaning towards a compromise.
“Allow zones to continue to use tags out if they currently do, but calculate based on the maximum number of tags a fisherman bought when he was actively fishing,” rather than the number he bought the year before he retired.
A proposal put forward by Sen. Dave Miramant (D-Camden) to create one waiting list for students and adult apprentices has drawn criticism from fishermen. That idea “didn’t seem to get any traction” in committee discussion, Kumiega said.
The elver fishing bill, LD 1502, is headed to the legislature with a unanimous “ought to pass as amended” stamp from the committee.
“The amended bill is quite a bit different,” Kumiega said, “it allows seven-day-a-week fishing, and adds seven days to the end of the season, stretching it into June.”
It used to be that the state had to mandate two 24-hour periods every week to be closed to elver fishing per Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) requirements. But in their most recent meeting (since the bill was drafted), ASMFC approved a change to a fishery management plan doing away with the closed periods, Kumiega said.
“The biggest thing is, the bill now allows the commissioner to enter into an agreement with any of the state’s Native American tribes allowing them to fish using a tribal quota instead of individual quotas.”
The Passamaquoddy Tribe has wanted that change for several years.
“A lot of it was figuring out a way to do it that the Attorney General’s office felt complied with the equal protection clause” of the state’s Constitution, Kumiega said. “They worried it was differential treatment. But what we have now recognizes the cultural and governmental differences.”