ELLSWORTH — The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Marine Resources will meet next Wednesday for hearings on three bills aimed at fine-tuning the state’s commercial fishing license system.
One bill, LD1652, would allow the Department of Marine Resources to set up a limited entry system for shrimp fishermen in any year when the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission sets the state’s northern shrimp landings allocation at less than 2,000 metric tons. Currently there is a moratorium on shrimp fishing in the Gulf of Maine.
The ASMFC allowed Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts to establish limited entry programs in their individual shrimp fisheries in 2011 but, so far, that hasn’t happened anywhere.
LD1652 “was a department (DMR) bill,” committee Co-chairman Rep. Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) said last week, adding that Commissioner Patrick Keliher was “reluctant” to establish a limited entry program for the fishery because “once you close it, it’s hard to reopen.”
Despite that difficulty, Kumiega said, given the poor status of the shrimp stock, “we may not have a choice. We don’t know when the next season will be, but it doesn’t hurt to have one in place”
The two other bills are more technical.
LD 1720 would extend the maximum duration of a temporary medical allowance for lobster and crab fishing license holders from one year to two. The bill also establishes a temporary terminal illness medical allowance that would allow the spouse or child of the terminally ill holder of a lobster and crab fishing license to fish on behalf of their family member in limited circumstances.
According to Kumiega, use of the medical allowance provisions is required “more often than you’d think,” and he recounted a personal exposure to a situation in which one spouse was able to haul gear for her husband while he was injured.
The third bill makes some minor changes in the state’s commercial fishing license fee structure. LD 1659 would reduce the Class I lobster and crab fishing license fee for applicants under 18 years of age from $65 to $60. It also would clarify the lobster license surcharge fees and fix an error regarding fees for resident apprentice lobster licenses for applicants 18 years of age or older. The bill also would clear up conflicting language in the law setting sea urchin and scallop diving tender license surcharges.
“There were some errors in the budget and some fees went up that shouldn’t have,” Kumiega said.
Not on the committee agenda but a possibility at next week’s meeting is a presentation about the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. Funding for the organization established in 2013 expires at the end of the year and the Legislature will have to consider whether or not to extend its life.
According to Kumiega, the Marine Resources Committee may draft a bill and send it to the full Legislature, where it would be referred back to the committee for consideration, with public hearings and work sessions to be scheduled.
“This would be just the first step,” Kumiega said. “There will be ample opportunity for the public to weigh in” on what is likely to be the committee’s “biggest work for sure.”