AUGUSTA — A bill that would tweak the state’s commercial lobster license system is scheduled for a public hearing with the legislature’s Marine Resources Committee Feb. 10.
LD 1503, “An Act to Create a Class II Limited Lobster and Crab Fishing License and Improve the Limited-entry System,” was sponsored by Rep. Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) and drafted in consultation with Department of Marine Resources staff. The bill makes some changes to entry into the lobster fishery and other changes to address latent effort (traps and licenses not being actively fished).
Between 2012 and 2014, only two fishermen were issued new licenses off the apprentice program waiting list in Zone B, which includes waters off Mount Desert Island. In that same period, 31 young people received Zone B commercial licenses when they upgraded their student licenses to commercial ones, bypassing the waiting list.
Zone B has a waiting list with 54 names, with the top seven having joined the list in 2005.
“Nobody expected the apprentice waiting lists to get this long,” Southwest Harbor fisherman Andy Mays said. “Once you make it so you can’t get a license, nobody’s gonna get rid of them. That’s why there’s so much latency.”
Many of the state’s commercial license holders haven’t reported any landings in several years, but for personal or economic reasons, they don’t want to give up their licenses. Some hope a future policy change will allow them to sell the license or transfer it to a family member.
Kumiega notes that when Massachusetts went to transferable licenses, they didn’t allow latent licenses to be transferred.
“There isn’t, and shouldn’t be, any connection between reducing latency and [addressing] entry,” he said. “Ideally entry would be based on active effort, but we don’t have that sophisticated a system. The exit ratios [are] an attempt to keep effort at a semi-constant level. Activating latent effort is considered a fisheries management no-no.”
The bill’s drafters hope that some latent license holders will switch to the new “limited commercial” license available for half price. The limited license comes with fewer trap tags (300 instead of 800), which regulators hope would give them a more accurate idea of the number of traps actually in the water.
For Zones A and B in Eastern Maine, in which licenses are used instead of tags for the entry/exit ratio, the bill wouldn’t change the waiting list. The entry ratio number is still up to the zone councils.
The bill also would make it possible for young adults to participate in the student license program until age 23, without the current requirement that they be enrolled in college. Applying that change retroactively, the DMR says, would move about 70 people off waiting lists statewide.
“I want to see the zone councils do what they can to make it more equitable between the students and the apprentices,” Mays said. I do not want to see the legislature fixing this for us, but the councils may need a push to change their thinking a little bit. [The current system is] not fair to apprentices.”
The Marine Resources Committee has a March 4 deadline to have all their bills voted, Kumiega said. The DMR Lobster Advisory Committee and zone councils may meet again to discuss the bill before then.