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Guest Column: 100% reporting now in place for all Maine lobstermen

Patrick Keliher is the Commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources (DMR photo)

As we start the new year, I wanted to send a reminder that 2023 marks the transition to mandatory 100% electronic harvester reporting for all commercial lobster license holders (including student license holders).

DMR has sent a number of communications on this topic, but I wanted to follow up with some further explanation of why this is happening. I know it isn’t popular, but it’s an important piece of securing the best data possible to understand effort in Maine’s lobster industry. Having this information should improve management in a number of ways, including when it comes to both whales, and the lobster resource.

As you are probably aware, up until now Maine has had 10% harvester reporting, and 100% dealer reporting. Maine has been the only state without 100% harvester reporting. While the dealer reports give us the total landings of the fishery, they don’t give us any information on where harvesters are fishing, how many traps they are hauling, or how many endlines they are using. All of this is vital to understanding the real footprint of the fishery, to make sure that if and when future management measures are developed, they can be targeted appropriately. Without that information, management measures end up being much broader than necessary, because we don’t have that fine-scale information.

As we’ve previously explained, Maine does not have a choice about implementing 100% electronic harvester reporting, because it required for compliance with Addendum XXVI to the ASMFC Lobster Management Plan. While we have been under a lot of pressure to move to 100% harvester reporting, we were able to push it back several years to give us time to find the funds needed to cover the cost associated with increased reporting so that we didn’t need to pass it along to harvesters in the form of increased license costs.

Like with all new things, I am committed to doing whatever DMR can to help smooth this transition. In preparation for this new requirement, DMR has developed a new app (VESL) that allows harvesters to report using a smartphone. All the information about how to obtain and use VESL is available here: https://www.maine.gov/dmr/fisheries/commercial/landings-data/reporting-forms. Alternatively, harvesters can report on a computer using LEEDS. All the information about how to report through LEEDS is available here: On-Line Harvester Catch & Landings Reporting.

If you run into any issues using VESL or LEEDS, you can always contact DMR Landings Program staff for further, one-on-one assistance. Staff can walk you through the steps to obtain and use VESL or LEEDS to meet the requirements. They can be reached from 8am-4:30pm Monday-Friday by calling 633-9414 or by sending an email to landings.dmr@maine.gov.

Landings Program staff will also be planning in-person meetings to demonstrate how to use both electronic reporting options, and will also be available for all three days at the 2023 Maine Fishermen’s Forum, to provide hands-on assistance to anyone who needs it.

Given the large number of lobster license holders, we are trying to target those individuals who are currently fishing. If you will not start fishing until later in the year, please feel free to wait until you start fishing and then submit your reports.

Again, I know that many of you would prefer if this change wasn’t happening. But as I mentioned in the notice about the 6-year “pause” on additional whale regulations, there is a lot of work that needs to be done between now and 2028, and this information is a critical piece of that work. This is just one example of how the Department and the industry must work together proactively to strengthen our position in management discussions going forward.

I hope this provides useful context for this change, and I wish you a safe and productive 2023.

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