ELLSWORTH — As a Feb. 10 hearing before the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee nears, Maine lobstermen continue to debate a bill that would tweak the system by which commercial lobster licenses are issued.
The proposals included in the bill were first presented to industry members in a round of town hall-style meetings hosted by Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher during the summer and fall. The ideas have also been discussed in meetings of the state’s seven regional Lobster Zone Management Councils.
Fishermen on the statewide Lobster Advisory Council (LAC) met Jan. 19 in Augusta to discuss LD 1503, “An Act to Create a Class II Limited Lobster and Crab Fishing License and Improve the Limited-entry System.”
The LAC opposed creation of a new class of lobster license as proposed in the bill, by a vote of 7-2. The “Class II Limited” license would allow the holder a maximum of 300 traps, rather than the 800 maximum for a regular Class II commercial license. Regulators hope some holders of “latent” licenses, those fishing only a few traps or none at all, would switch to the new limited license. That would give fisheries managers a more accurate idea of the number of traps actually in the water.
Some of those latent license holders are assumed to be older fishermen. Under current rules, anyone over 70 years old gets a 50 percent discount on fees for a Class II or III license. The new Limited license category would eliminate this age discount.
The council unanimously supported another provision in the bill, extending the student license program to age 23. Currently, student fishermen must complete the program by their 18th birthday or be enrolled in college full time. Critics of the program say aspiring fishermen with no qualified family available are at a disadvantage and giving them more time to complete the program would help.
The proposal is to waive the full-time student provision for those who have a high school diploma or GED. Students must start the program before turning 18. The change would be retroactive to former students in the program, which would make dozens of fishermen currently on waiting lists eligible for licenses.
LAC members supported two other proposed changes. One would to require an apprentice in an island limited-entry program such as the one in the Cranberry Isles to do their apprenticeship in the lobster management zone in which they will fish once they get a license. Another would get rid of a requirement that if fishermen purchase fewer trap tags one year, they build back up to the maximum by 100 tags per year. The bill would allow a fisherman to purchase up to the maximum number of tags they have purchased in any past year.
The LAC opposed requiring the zone councils to calculate their entry/exit ratio for new licenses using the number of licenses retired in a given year, rather than the number of tags.
The provision drew criticism from both the Maine Lobstermen’s Association and the Downeast Lobstermen’s Association. Spokesmen for both groups said their members wanted the regional councils to maintain control over how the entry/exit ratio was determined.