ELLSWORTH — The start of the early season for divers, rakers and trappers to fish for sea urchins is less than a month away. Early this month, harvesters who work in Blue Hill Bay learned that the Department of Marine Resources will be right there with them on their boats, at least figuratively.
Early this month, DMR announced that urchin fishing in most of Blue Hill Bay will be banned except for fishermen who agree to carry an electronic GPS tracking device on their boat and keep it turned on and “continuously recording data” as to the boat’s geographic location throughout the entire fishing season. The rule applies to boats that drag for urchins as well as to boats used by divers, trappers or rakers.
Meeting in Ellsworth earlier this month, about a dozen harvesters told DMR Resource Coordinator Melissa Smith and several department scientists that they didn’t care for the constant surveillance.
According to Smith and DMR scientist Margaret Hunter, data from the tracking devices would be used by department scientists studying the abundance of urchins in Blue Hill Bay, not for enforcement purposes.
“This is not a Marine Patrol project, this is a DMR science project,” Smith said. “We’re trying to figure out what the urchins are doing and what you guys are doing to get them.”
The tracking devices are small “black boxes” about the size of a tablet computer such as an iPad, but a little thicker. Nick Salvi, a vice president at the company that builds the devices, Faria Beede Instruments Inc. of Uncasville, Conn., explained that location data from the tracker, each with a unique identifier number, would be uploaded to a website accessible to DMR. Information from each individual device also would be accessible to the owner of the boat on which the tracker was installed, but no one else, on a password-protected site.
“DMR will be able to see the fleet and you guys will be able to see your own boat,” he said.
According to Salvi, the trackers are “plug and play,” wired into the boat’s electrical system with no on-off switch. The inability to turn the trackers off, and the requirement for continuous operation during the fishing season, troubled several harvesters.
“It seems totalitarian,” one fisherman said. “The noose seems to be getting tighter every year.”
Like many Maine fishermen, a lot of the state’s urchin harvesters have licenses for more than one fishery. A harvester could dive for both sea urchins and scallops when the seasons overlap, or go out lobstering, all using the same boat. Under the DMR rule, if that fisherman wanted to harvest urchins in Blue Hill Bay this winter, his boat would have to be equipped with a tracker that was always operating.
“It’s not right to have this on for everything, just when they’re urchining,” Deer Isle fisherman Paul Gray told Smith.
Right or not, the early 38 fishing day season for urchin divers in Zone 2, between eastern Penobscot and Cobscook bays, opens Tuesday, Sept. 12. Divers working in Blue Hill Bay will need to have the trackers installed and operating on their boats.