AUGUSTA — It’s a busy time for Maine’s newly organized 129th Legislature, with a new governor in the Blaine House, new committee chairs and nearly a thousand bills already filed for consideration, many of them sure to provoke controversy.
The Marine Resources Committee has new co-chairs, Sen. Dave Miramant (D-Knox County) and Rep. Joyce McCreight (D-Harpswell), and will hold its first hearings this week.
First out of the gate at the Marine Resources Committee is LD 4 — “An Act To Encourage Applied Shellfish Research” — sponsored by Rep. Robert Alley (D-Beals) and scheduled for a hearing at 1 p.m. on Thursday Jan. 24.
Alley’s bill appears relatively straightforward, giving municipalities with shellfish conservation ordinances the power to let a “research entity” conduct applied research in conjunction with the Department of Marine Resources or other “approved professional entity” to support a municipal shellfish conservation program and to file annual reports with DMR.
The Downeast Institute is located on Beals Island in the heart of Alley’s district.
As of Monday, the committee had yet to schedule hearings for either LD 28 — “An Act Regarding Access to Lobster Licenses” — sponsored by committee co-chair McCreight or LD 174 — “An Act To Promote Youth Participation in the Maine Lobster Fishery” — sponsored by Rep. Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington).
McCreight’s bill, which would allow anyone who has been on the waiting list for a lobster fishing license for at least 10 years to get a license immediately, has already sparked considerable comment online. It is likely to reopen the debate about how Maine issues lobster licenses, the license apprentice program and licenses that are available to students between the ages of 8 and 18.
McDonald’s bill would make it easier for lobstermen to take kids out with them occasionally “to help students without access to a fishing boat” learn what lobstering is all about, she said.
However laudable her intentions — the bill grew out of McDonald’s own experience with her 10-year-old nephew on her Stonington-based lobster boat — the proposal has also generated considerable chatter online that may well be repeated in a hearing.
In the foregone conclusion category, though, is the Marine Resources Committee’s scheduled hearing at 1 p.m. next Tuesday, Jan. 29, to consider whether to confirm Governor Janet Mills’ nomination of Patrick Keliher as commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources.
Keliher currently serves in the post, to which he was appointed by then-Governor Paul LePage in July 2012. Last month, a coalition of groups representing most of the state’s fishing industry urged Mills to keep Keliher on the job.