BAR HARBOR — Current and aspiring Mount Desert Island lobstermen will have a chance to discuss proposed changes to the state licensing system next week when the Lobster Management Zone B Council meets at MDI High School Dec. 16 at 6 p.m.
As Department of Marine Resources (DMR) Commissioner Patrick Keliher told fishermen in a series of town hall meetings earlier in the year, the agency is looking at ways to shorten the waiting list for a license in limited entry zones without significantly increasing the number of traps in the water. In “closed” (limited entry) zones, a license (corresponding to a certain number of trap tags) must be surrendered from a current license holder before a new license may be issued to someone on the waiting list. In a move to speed up the process, some zones have opted to use the licenses as the “currency” for this transfer rather than the number of trap tags associated with it.
Proposed changes coming before the legislature in the upcoming session will be in a bill sponsored by Rep. Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle), “An Act to Improve Maine’s Lobster Licensing and Limited-entry System” is still being drafted by the Department of Marine Resources but has been accepted for consideration this session, Kumiega said.
“I’m not planning on throwing any curveballs” as the bill’s sponsor, he said. “The Department is drafting it. I expect it’ll be drafted by the middle of December, go through the legislature and be referred” to the Marine Resources Committee.
“We’re going to try and hold off public hearing on the lobster bill until sometime in February to give a little more chance for zone councils to meet and the Lobster Advisory Council to meet,” he said. “But we can’t put it off too much because we don’t have a whole lot of time. Committee work for this session has to be done middle of March.”
Ideas floated by Keliher in the fall include creating a limited commercial license for those who fish fewer than the 800-trap maximum and extending the student apprentice program. Currently, a student must complete all the required hours to qualify for his or her license by his or her 18th birthday. Some of the discussion is about pushing that cutoff to age 21 or 23 and whether to make the change retroactive to people currently on waiting lists.
“None of these are new ideas,” Kumiega said. “They have been kicking around since before I was in the legislature.”
A limited commercial license could appeal to harvesters who aren’t interested in fishing a full 800 traps, he said. “There are people who only fish 400 traps, so if you could get a license that was cheaper, you would jump at it.”
Currently, about 20 percent of Maine’s licensed lobstermen report zero landings annually.
In a written questionnaire sent to members recently, fishermen in Zone C, which abuts Zone B in Blue Hill Bay and is the only open zone with no limited entry program, said they were in favor of closure by a margin of 2-1. Less than half of the license holders responded. The zone council opted to table the discussion until after the legislative session.
“I told [the Zone C council] that I don’t know if the bill will have a huge effect as long as you go with a reasonable entry/exit ratio,” Kumiega said. “They’re more interested in what happens with the student licenses. They want the increased age. I haven’t heard anybody who’s been opposed to that, though some people wanted to impose conditions like a high school graduation or GED requirement.”