ELLSWORTH — The Legislature will take up bills dealing with the lobster and elver fisheries when it returns to work next month, but new licensing rules for the scallop industry will likely have to wait.
Last month, the Legislative Council approved two bills proposed by Rep. Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) for consideration by the full Legislature when it returns to work in January. The council has to green-light any new bills that lawmakers want to introduce during the Legislature’s second session.
Kumiega, House chairman of the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee, will offer a bill that would, he said, “provide increased flexibility and promote maximum utilization of the elver quota by Maine’s elver harvesters,” if enacted.
Current law calls for a 48-hour fishing closure each week to provide an opportunity for juvenile eels to pass upstream on their seasonal journey from the sea to their spawning areas 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. Kumiega’s bill would give DMR flexibility to set the 48-hour weekly closed period by rule prior to the start of the season based on the timing of the tidal cycle.
DMR would consult with industry members to determine which weekly 48-hour period would have the least impact on harvesting opportunity by setting the closed period 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 is also offering 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. New entrants to the fishery can get a license when a certain number of lobster trap tags are retired. The number varies depending among the state’s seven Lobster Management Zones.
The system is extremely slow. 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 establish retired licenses rather than tags as the measure for 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 permit the use of a maximum 300 traps instead of 800 traps, for those who wish to voluntarily limit their fishing.
The bill also includes a number of other changes, but has yet to be drafted in its final form.
The Legislative Council turned down legislation proposed by Rep. Lydia Blume (D-York) that would have established an “owner-operator” requirement for the state’s scallop and urchin fishing industries.
According to Blume, who is a member of the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee, an owner-operator requirement, long in force in the lobster fishery, “ensures that license holders are invested in the fishery … and is important to promoting a long-term stewardship ethic.”
Blume submitted the legislation in conjunction with the Department. of Marine Resources, she said, “because of its importance” to preserving the fisheries.
Participation in the scallop fishery has increased markedly over the past few seasons as people who were not using their license jumped in to take advantage of a rebuilding resource and high scallop prices. An owner-operator requirement, Blume said, “will stabilize the number of license holders who are actually likely to participate in the fishery, providing increased predictability and stability for those who are relying on this seasonal source of income.”
Although the urchin fishery is currently small, Blume said it would be advisable to take a proactive approach toward limiting fishing effort before the resource rebounds from its depleted condition.
“Learning from our experience with scallops,” Blume told the council, “it would be far better to implement the owner-operator requirement prior to achieving significant urchin rebuilding.”
Blume said she anticipates that she will resubmit her proposal to the next regular session of the Legislature.