Lobster license wait is debated

ELLSWORTH — Proposals to tweak the rules for commercial lobster licenses were on the table when almost 50 fishermen, students, Department of Marine Resources (DMR) staff and Marine Patrol officers gathered Sept. 23 at Ellsworth High School.

DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher presented ideas his department is considering and opened the meeting to a wide-ranging discussion. It was one of eight community meetings with lobster industry members held this fall up and down the Maine coast.

Lobster management Zone B, which includes Ellsworth and Mount Desert Island, has roughly half as many fishermen as other zones, he said. Under the limited entry program here, the number of new lobster licenses available each year depends on the number of licenses surrendered each year. The Zone B waiting list includes 55 names. Those at the top have been waiting since May 2005. No one at the meeting spoke in favor of opening Zone B, doing away with limited entry here.

“We’re trying to get to a system where five years on a waiting list is the norm,” Keliher said. “The people on the waiting list want predictability,” and have pressed the legislature and governor’s office for change.

“Five years is long enough to wait,” agreed Islesford fisherman Jack Merrill. “None of us in the fishery waited seven years to get our licenses. There has to be a system for people other than students to get in.”

Some of the ideas to address the waiting list were similar to those presented by Representative Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) in the last legislative session, none of which were successful. Kumiega is the House chair of the Marine Resources Committee. They included proposals to allow the DMR commissioner to issue fewer trap tags to new license holders and adjust the ratio for limited entry zones. Another would have limited the number of trap tags available to any fishermen who reported no landings in the previous year.

“The whole idea is to get feedback before we take these ideas to the legislature,” Keliher told the lobstermen. “Sometimes in the past, we haven’t done that. and we don’t get too far. I always said you guys are a little bit like pushing a rope.”

In earlier community meetings this fall, he had said the proposals would be put in a governor’s bill in the upcoming legislative session, but in Ellsworth, he said it would more likely be a department bill.

One idea floated to improve access was to expand the student license program under which some new fishermen bypass the waiting list altogether. Under current rules, a young person must complete a certain number of hours fishing under a parent or other sponsor before age 18. Keliher proposed extending the program to anyone under 23 who completes the requirements. Enacting that change, especially if it were made retroactive to anyone currently on a waiting list, would move lots of people off the list, he said.

Dylan “Boomer” Carroll of Southwest Harbor is a recent graduate of Mount Desert Island High School and beneficiary of the student program. “It gives kids like me the possibility of choosing your profession at an early age, and I think that’s a good thing!” he told the Islander Monday.

Reporter Stephen Rappaport contributed to this story.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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