AUGUSTA — Public hearings like the one held this afternoon before the legislature’s Marine Resources Committee are not usually the venue where a committee votes its recommendation on a pending bill. But that’s what happened Wednesday with LD 563, “An Act Regarding the Purchase of Trap Tags in the Lobster Fishery.”
The bill’s sponsor, house chair Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle), decided ahead of the hearing to “kill” it by recommending the committee suspend its normal rules, go into work session, and vote the bill “ought not to pass.”
The bill would have required the Commissioner of Marine Resources to establish a minimum number of lobster landings for license holders wishing to purchase the maximum number of trap tags in a given year. The bill was an attempt to address latent effort—tags sold to fishermen but not actually being fished, Kumiega told the Islander in the fall. In areas of the state with long waiting lists for licenses, it’s galling for those waiting on the list to know many license holders aren’t fishing at all.
“After speaking with members of industry and the department I have decided this issue needs more time and study,” he said. “[Marine Resources] Commissioner Keliher will be conducting industry outreach meetings later this year and I am sure that latent effort will be part of the discussions.”
The committee decided to hear testimony before going into work session to vote.
Several fishermen and Maine Lobstermen’s Association director Patrice McCarron spoke against the bill. No one spoke in favor.
Keliher said in his testimony that the Department of Marine Resources “agrees that more conversation is warranted before changes are made. Management options are different depending on whether you have dealt with latent effort,” he said. “Any action will require industry buy-in.”
He said the department will be drafting legislation in the future to address these issues.
The “ought not to pass” vote was unanimous.
Testimony was heard on a bill proposing to extend the legal hours for lobster harvesting for part of the year, LD 490, at the beginning of the hearing.
Colonel John Cornish Maine Marine Patrol spoke against the bill, citing predicted enforcement problems. “We rely on certain conventions to help us do our job,” he said. “One of those is restricting fishing to daylight hours until the end of October.” He opposed the idea of leaving decisions on the issue to local Lobster Management Zone councils. “That would be a nightmare scenario for enforcement.”
Captain Skip Strong of Penobscot Bay and River Pilots also opposed the bill. He and his colleagues are concerned about lobster boats operating in the dark as they guide large commercial or passenger vessels into port. “We believe this is first and foremost a safety issue for all the vessels on the water.” He said some fishing boats violate the Navigation Rules of the Road, which have the force of federal law, by failing to post a “proper lookout” and by using lights bright enough to obscure the view of their running lights. He compared his experience of seeing these bright lights from the bridge of a cruise ship to being in a car when an approaching vehicle has its high beams on.
A committee member asked Strong how many accidents had resulted from fishing boats operating in the dark. “None,” he said, “but the number of close calls has dramatically increased.”
Representatives from the Maine Lobsterman’s Association and the Downeast Lobsterman’s Association said their members had varying opinions on the bill and spoke neither in favor nor against.
The committee also heard testimony on two other bills about the lobster fishery: LD 491, lowering the age at which license fees are reduced to 65, and LD 492, expanding license eligibility for veterans.