ELLSWORTH — Want to get a license to fish for lobster in Maine?
Don’t hold your breath.
Last week, the Department of Marine Resources published the latest update to the waiting list for people hoping for a Maine lobster license.
If you added your name this week, there were still 248 names ahead of yours, and some of them have been on the list for more than a decade.
Maine’s coastal waters are divided into seven lobster management zones and every licensed lobster fishermen must “declare” one zone as the one in which they will fish the majority of their traps.
Each of those zones operates under a “limited entry” principle that keeps new licensees out until a certain number of existing licenses are not renewed. These “exit ratios” vary from the liberal 1-to-1 in Zone C — essentially from eastern Penobscot Bay to western Blue Hill, which had no limited entry restrictions until recently — to the restrictive 1-to-5 in the four zones (D through G) between the western Penobscot Bay and the New Hampshire border — and the slightly less restrictive 1-to-3 in zones A and B covering Downeast waters.
Unsurprisingly, applicants hoping for a license to fish in Zone A — easternmost Hancock County and all of Washington County — face the longest waiting list, with 54 names. Second longest is the list for Zone F, covering the waters between Small Point and Cape Elizabeth — Casco Bay.
Zone E, covering the waters westward between Pemaquid Point and Small Point in Phippsburg, has the shortest list with just 16 names.
As long as the waiting lists are, it is the waiting times that are attention-getting.
In Zone A, Danny Beal Sr. of Harrington has been on the list since April 2012 — more than six years — but he’s a comparative short-timer.
The Zone B list includes 20 names that have been on the list for more than six years. On top of the list is Gary V. Tapley Jr. of Swan’s Island. He has been listed since October 2006. With a 1-to-3 exit ratio — meaning that three licenses have to be retired before a single new license is issued — it may take some time to move up the list.
In Zone D, the oldest name on the list has been waiting since May 2007. In Zone F, around Casco Bay, the date of infamy is Jan. 30, 2009.
Despite the grim numbers, there is hope.
Last year, according to DMR, a number of licenses were issued to applicants on the waiting list as some annual lobster licenses weren’t renewed.
In Zone A, DMR issued six licenses, presumably a reflection of the non-renewal of 18 licenses. In Zone B, the department issued three new licenses, reflecting the non-renewal of nine outstanding licenses.
In Zone C, which was completely open until a contentious vote late in 2016, thirteen licenses were awarded.
Until recently, it was sometimes unclear whether applicants whose names appeared on the waiting lists were still actively seeking a lobster license in a particular zone.
In 2016, DMR contacted everyone on the waiting lists to determine whether they were still interested in a license. Individuals had 60 days to reply to the query or lose their place on the list.
DMR is now required to review the waiting lists at least once every three years in an effort to keep them current.