AUGUSTA — Two Hancock County lawmakers have drafted several bills that would affect the lobster and crab fisheries should they reach the floor of the Maine Legislature.
State Rep. Brian Hubbell (D-Bar Harbor) has drafted a concept bill (LD 149) that proposes several ways to make changes to limited-entry lobster and crab zones.
“It is a laundry list of possible solutions to the grievances I’ve heard from fishermen in Zone B,” Hubbell said.
Tensions between commercial lobster license holders in lobster management zones B and C have been running high since last summer and flared in a dramatic fashion last fall with the report of a trap-cutting war that resulted in gear losses estimated at $350,000 or more by the Marine Patrol.
Those tensions stem from the fact that Zone C had been an open zone and lobstermen from there can fish up to 49-perecent of their traps in Zone B.
Some Zone B fishermen believe it’s unfair that Zone C lobstermen are using their second zone tags and crowding waters where entry is limited.
Hubbell’s bill proposes five ways that issues such as this can be avoided within all the state’s lobster management zones.
The first solution would be to end double tagging altogether. Current second tag holders would still be permitted to fish outside of their declared zone, but after the effective date of the law, no new second tags would be permitted.
Should second zone tagging become illegal, the bill suggests that licensees who fish in a second zone would be subjected to “the most restrictive management measures of both zones.”
Another option would be to alter the current ratio that allows 49 percent of one’s traps to be fished in a second zone to just 25 percent.
Hubbell said the bill covers many bases with the goal of coming up with a solution that suits all lobstermen.
“The [Zone B] fishermen wanted to have all of that put in and bring that to the table,” he said. “I respect the fishermen in my district and they wanted to have those options explored and they will have that chance in front of the committee.”
Hubbell said he has discussed the bill with the Patrick Keliher, commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources, and with representatives of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association to get a gauge of how much support the bill might have.
The bill is currently with the Marine Resources Committee and does not yet have a hearing date.
“This leaves the hard work up to the committee,” Hubbell said. “They can decide to take it in any direction they want or decide not to go in any direction.”
State Rep. Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle), who also represents Tremont and Southwest Harbor, is sponsoring a bill that would allow lobstermen to work longer hours during October.
Kumiega’s bill (LD 14) would alter the existing law. Currently, from May to October lobstermen are permitted to start hauling one-half hour before sunrise and to work until one-half hour after sunset.
But the days begin to run shorter come October, which cuts into valuable time and fishermen’s margins.
“Most of the year [the law] works,” Kumiega said. “But when the days start getting shorter in October it forces them to work less.”
Kumiega’s provision would allow for a 5 a.m. start time between Oct. 1 and Oct. 31. Fishermen would still have to end their days one-half hour after sunset. From Nov. 1 through May 31, fishing is permitted at any hour of the day.
Last fall, the Zone B lobster council voted on a resolution to request that Kumiega submit this bill on their behalf.
Kumiega represents the Lobster Zone B towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont, Frenchboro, Cranberry Isles and Swan’s Island as well as the Zone C towns of Deer Isle, Stonington, Vinalhaven, Isle au Haut and Marshall Island Township.
He said the issue has come up in lobster management zone B and C meetings, but has not heard from anyone in the state’s five other lobster management zones about whether they would support the effort.
The bill is currently with the legislature’s Marine Resources Committee. There will be a public hearing on the bill and then it would go to the floor of the House of Representatives around the end of April.
Kumiega is sponsoring another bill (LD 201) that would change the current rules for how many lobster and crab trap tags fishermen can buy after they have been on a hiatus.
The rule states that if a lobsterman purchased, say, 400 trap tags instead of the maximum allowable trap tag limit of 800, he would be permitted to only purchase 400 tags the following year.
“This bill is proposing that if you have bought 800 tags in the past, you can buy 800 again,” Kumiega said. “This is not a big change and would affect a small number of fishermen. There is not going to be a lot of support or opposition to it.”
Kumiega’s bills are currently scheduled for a hearing before the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee on Feb. 15. As of last week, the committee had not published a hearing date for Hubbell’s bill.