ELLSWORTH — The Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee has scheduled a public hearing on a bill introduced by Rep. Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) that would give the Department of Marine Resources more flexibility in managing the elver fishery.
The hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 13, in Room 206 of the Cross Building in Augusta.
Sen. Brian Langley (R-Hancock County) is among the bill’s co-sponsors.
Kumiega, House chairman of the Marine Resources Committee, has proposed a bill that would, he said last month, “provide increased flexibility and promote maximum utilization of the elver quota by Maine’s elver harvesters.”
The law as it now stands calls for a 48-hour fishing closure each week to give the juvenile eels, commonly known as elvers, a chance to pass upstream on their spring journey from the sea to their spawning grounds in Maine’s streams, lakes and ponds. The closed period is now set by statute and runs from Friday at noon to Sunday at noon each week. Kumiega’s bill would let DMR set the 48-hour closed periods by rule prior to the start of the season, based on the timing of the weekly tidal cycle. The department would consult with industry members to determine which weekly 48-hour period would have the least impact on the fishery opportunity by setting the closed periods when the tides are the least advantageous to harvesting.
The high price of elvers in recent years has made the fishery second only to lobster in terms of the value of the fishery in Maine.
Kumiega has also offered a bill that, he said, would improve the state’s lobster licensing procedures and reduce the waiting time for fishermen trying to enter the fishery.
The current system establishes a waiting list for fishermen who have completed an apprenticeship to get a lobster license. Each new entrant to the fishery may get a license only after a certain number of lobster trap tags are retired. The number varies depending among the state’s seven Lobster Management Zones.
As it now stands, the system has created a backlog of people waiting to get licenses. Some applicants have been stuck on the waiting lists for as long as 10 years after finishing the two-year apprenticeship program.
Kumiega’s proposed legislation, which appears to have considerable support within the lobster industry, would require that retired licenses, rather than retired tags, be used to determine how many new licenses should be issued.
It would also change the amount of time an individual has to convert from a student license to a commercial lobster license by raising the age by which they must finish their apprenticeship and convert their licenses from age 18 to age 23. The bill would also establish a new “limited” lobster and crab fishing license that would allow for the use of a maximum of 300 traps for those who wish to voluntarily limit their fishing. Except in limited cases, the current limit is 800 traps.
As of Monday, the Marine Resources Committee had not published a hearing date for Kumiega’s lobster bill.