AUGUSTA — A bill to make commercial lobster fishing licenses transferable within a family, the most recent in a string of such bills over the last 15 years, received no support in its public hearing Monday.
Representative Robert Alley of Beals, in introducing LD 896, “An Act to Improve Lobster Licensing,” acknowledged concerns about the bill when he introduced it. “I have received a lot of great feedback on this bill over the last several weeks,” he said. “I’m grateful to the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) for providing this committee with a lot of valuable information.”
He proposed that the Marine Resources committee “turn the bill into a ‘resolve’ directing the DMR and various stakeholder groups to develop a comprehensive approach to licensing.” He then invited lobstermen who had come to testify to use the hearing time to weigh in on the issue.
Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher agreed that his department could bring a comprehensive bill back in the second half of the session. The DMR opposed the bill, he said, because transferring licenses “would slow what is now a glacial pace on the waiting list even more. People would be left to wither there even longer.”
Maine operates under a limited entry system with a fixed number of licenses.
The idea of family tranfers has come up four other times in the past 14 years, said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobsterman’s Association (MLA). “Over the years, this committee has reviewed many proposals seeking the transfer of lobster licenses within families. These various proposals have included LD 307 in 2011, LD 585 in 2009, LD 1147 in 2005 and LD 969 in 2001. Over the years, none of these bills were passed and none were supported by the MLA or the state.”
Any transfer of licenses, she said, is a move toward privatizing access to the fishery, a public resource. “The lobster fishery is a sustainable, lucrative fishery. Given that entry to the fishery is limited, there will always be pressure to create loopholes. The MLA asks that you not create any loopholes, but instead support the DMR’s effort to engage industry stakeholders in creating a Lobster Management Plan through which a comprehensive review and potential reform of the entry system can be conducted.”
LD 896 would have limited the number of times a given lobsterman would have to participate in the DMR harvester reporting “logbook” program in a ten-year period. In his testimony, Keliher said he was open to reorganizing that program. “I’d be happy to look at that and bring back a couple of concepts that would still meet our random sampling requirements.”
LD 896 also included a provision to grant retired Marine Patrol officers lobster licenses with a 400 trap limit, an idea also put forward separately in LD 1016. The MLA and the DMR opposed this provision.
In other action Monday, the Marine Resources committee went into work session and voted LD 1027, “An Act to create an Elver Exporter License,” “ought to pass as amended.” That bill moves next to the full Legislature for consideration.