Lobstermen may have to give up their secrets



ELLSWORTH — The anti-regulatory fervor sweeping the nation’s capital doesn’t seem to extend as far as the Gulf of Maine, at least not for lobster and Jonah crab fishermen.

This week, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is holding two public hearings in Maine on a plan to impose new reporting requirements in the offshore lobster and crab fisheries. One hearing was scheduled for Scarborough on Tuesday evening. The other is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 11 at Ellsworth High School.

The ASMFC is concerned that it does not have enough data about the lobster and Jonah crab fisheries to make appropriate management decisions.

Ten percent of Maine lobstermen (chosen annually at random) are required to file monthly landing reports with the Department of Marine Resources about where and how they fish. The reports include detailed data about the geographic location of traps, how long they have been set and at what depths, how many traps are hauled on each trip, the total pounds landed and more.

Lobstermen licensed by other New England states already file detailed reports with their state resource management agencies.

Only about 20 percent of Maine’s roughly 5,000 commercial lobstermen also hold the federal permits required to fish outside the three-mile limit of state waters, and even fewer fish in the really deep waters beyond 12 miles from shore. According to the ASMFC, some 98 percent of lobster landings from the Gulf of Maine come from inside that 12-mile zone, so reports of what’s happening in the offshore lobster fishery are generally scarce. What’s more, unlike most fishermen operating in federal waters, federal permit holders fishing only for lobster are not required to report their trips to the National Marine Fisheries Service via electronic reporting devices. No separate landing reports are currently required for Jonah crab.

In recent years, much of the Maine lobster fleet has moved into deeper waters. Virtually all of the Jonah crab fishery takes place in offshore federal waters.

The ASMFC is considering several possible alternative rule changes to require all Maine lobstermen fishing in federal waters to file extremely detailed reports similar to those now filed by the small sample of the state’s fishermen. Maine lobstermen now land about 83 percent of all lobsters landed in the United States but, with the state’s scanty reporting requirements, the ASMFC doesn’t have, regulators say, enough data to track the health of the Gulf of Maine’s lobster stock or to understand the potential economic effects of management decisions affecting the fishery.

The ASMFC is looking for comment from the industry and the public on proposals that would substantially improve, or at least increase, reports from the Maine fishery over the next two years. Initially, the commission would like all federally licensed harvesters to report their landings, and to provide more exact and extensive information about how and where they’re fishing.

Within two years, the ASMFC would like Maine and other New England states to establish an electronic swipe-card reporting system for lobster harvesters and dealers. Maine already uses electronic swipe cards in its elver and sea urchin fisheries.

The ASMFC also is calling for the installation of electronic locater devices on all lobster boats, wherever they fish, and to require federal lobster permit holders to install permanent electronic vessel tracking reporting devices similar to those used by groundfish and offshore scallop fishing boats.

Earlier this week, the ASMFC held public meetings on its proposals, known as Addendum XXVI to Amendment 3 of the American Lobster Fishery Management Plan and Addendum III to the Jonah Crab Fishery Management Plan in New York and New Jersey. Hearings are scheduled next week in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]