ELLSWORTH — The price of catching lobster keeps going up. Bait, fuel and now trap tags have all forced lobstermen to dig a little deeper in their pockets when heading out to sea.
The Department of Marine Resources has raised the cost of each lobster trap tag by half, from 50 cents to 75 cents, for the 2022 season. So, a lobsterman fishing the maximum 800 traps will shell out $600 for trap tags this year instead of $400.
But trap tags are specific to the lobster zone a lobsterman fishes in, and for the many lobstermen fishing in two zones and affixing two tags per trap, the cost rises.
While it’s only a couple hundred dollars or more when lobsters have been commanding high prices at the wharf, the increase represents one more financial hit to fishermen facing future uncertainty in the commercial fishery.
With the price of offshore lobster boats running about $1 million, and boat insurance as high as $10,000 a year, the price of fishing has gone up, said Stonington lobsterman and Zone C Council member Richard Larrabee Jr. He remembers when trap tags cost just enough to cover only the cost of the tags.
“You hear a lot about fishermen making a lot of money but when you go haul [your lobsters] out, you have to have a good day,” he said.
The DMR projected revenue and expenditures through 2024 to arrive at the increase to 75 cents per tag, which will provide a cash balance slightly above $800,000 each year in the dedicated Lobster Management Fund account. The projected revenue from trap tags this year is $1,538,900.
If the increase had been to 65 cents per tag, the fund would still be nearly $110,000 in the red by 2024. And with no increase at all, the fund would be $516,454 in the hole by the end of this year.
Each tag costs the department just under 17 cents, DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said at a Dec. 15 Lobster Advisory Council meeting. “Prior to 2018, we were paying 3 cents a tag.”
The fund helped support whale research from 2008 to 2010, DMR Communications Director Jeff Nichols explained, but has since been reallocated as DMR expenses rose.
The lobster management account now funds positions in the DMR Bureau of Marine Science, helps with licensing costs and other general operating costs and contributes to centrally provided services such as human resources, payroll, security and office space. It also helps support the Marine Patrol, with slightly above $500,000 allocated in 2022 to fund six positions.
But it’s the research positions some lobstermen say that provide the greatest impact.
“It’s quite an increase,” Richard Larrabee Sr. said. “But to me, if it goes to the research I’m tickled to death.”
“Those science positions are critical to us,” Lobster Advisory Council and Zone C Council member David Tarr said. “We can’t regulate these fisheries without good information, and we can’t counteract some of the regulations that are coming from the feds without good information and good people doing the work.”
Tarr fishes out of Brooklin, and just wrote a $1,600 check for license fees.
“It’s substantial, and a big part of that is trap tags,” he said. “The increase affects us.”
He added that the industry would be better served if the Legislature appropriated enough to the DMR to cover its costs.
“The fishing industry and that whole ecosystem off the coast of Maine makes it worth funding that department to capacity,” Tarr said. “It should be done through the Legislature.”