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In the News: September 2012

Sweden seeks to impose restrictions on imports and sales of live Maine lobster The U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) in Stockholm reports that Sweden will apply to the European Commission and the World Trade Organization for permission to impose a ban on the unregulated import and sale of live American lobster from the U.S. and Canada on the basis that American lobster is an invasive species that could harm domestic lobster populations. The government hopes the ban can be in place by next summer, with Norway and other neighboring EU-countries to follow Sweden’s lead. An exemption is being framed for importers who have a closed system for boiling lobsters. There have been reported instances of American lobster thriving in the waters of Sweden and Norway. The lobsters found are believed to have been released or escaped from cages in the sea. On April 26, 2012, the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management sent a proposal to the Ministry of Environment to ban the entry and import of live American lobster to Sweden. While Swedish importers recognize the problem with illegal handling of live lobster, they were against the proposal to ban live American lobster entirely. In 2011, Sweden imported 360,000 pounds of live American lobster from the United States at a value of US $2.6 million. The major importers sell about 50% boiled lobster to retailers and 50% live lobster to wholesalers. If the Swedish government opts for boiling requirements verses a ban, importers and wholesalers without closed systems will no longer have access to live American lobster.

Lobster Fishery does not jeopardize whales In early August, NOAA’s national Marine Fisheries Service reaffirmed its finding that, based on a new biological opinion developed under the Endangered Species Act, the continued operation of the American lobster fishery is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of right, humpback, fin and sei whales, loggerhead and leatherback sea turtle populations or any of the distinct population segments of Atlantic sturgeon as a result of entanglement in pot/trap gear. This biological opinion of the potential impact of the lobster fishery on Endangered Species Act-listed species was reinitiated in response to the February, 2012 listing of five Distinct Population Segments of Atlantic sturgeon as either threatened or endangered. “This is very good news,” said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.

October 16 deadline for vessel safety checks The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 mandated commercial fishing vessel safety examinations for all commercial fishing, fish tenders, and fish processors operating beyond 03 nautical miles from the territorial seas baseline (3 nautical miles from shore), regardless of whether the vessel is State-registered or Federally-documented. Beginning October 16, 2012, commercial fishing vessel safety examinations will become mandatory on all these vessels. Dockside exams, which are good for two years, are free of charge and can be arranged for Maine/New Hampshire vessels by calling Kevin Plowman at 207-780-3256 or Gerry Moores at 207-838-4440.  A summary of new safety requirements can be found at http://www.fishsafe.info/NewCFVSAuthActReqsrev32212.pdf

Council's Herring Amendment 4 tossed out by District Court judge In August, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler found that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) acted illegally in approving the herring management plan put together by the New England Fisheries Management Council known as Amendment 4 and tossed out the entire amendment. The order is the latest development in a lawsuit filed in April, 2011, by a coalition of recreational anglers and charter-boat fishermen, and conservationists that asked NMFS to consider protections for severely depleted river herring, shad, and sea herring. Specifically, the order requires NMFS and the New England Council to review the most recent science and consider a full suite of protections for river herring and shad. It gives NMFS one year to take action to minimize the bycatch of river herring and shad and orders the agency to consider new approaches for setting the allowable catch for sea herring that accounts for its role as food for other fish, birds, and whales. NMFS must report its actions to the court at one, six and twelve month intervals. Amendment 4 is null as of August, 2013. In March 2012, Judge Kessler found that NMFS had failed to take required action to address the catch of severely depleted populations of river herring and shad populations by the New England industrial herring fleet. The court found that a Fisheries Management Plan must protect all stocks that “require conservation and management” and may not unreasonably delay making such decisions. The court also found that appropriate protections for sea herring and its role as a keystone species in the ocean food web were not considered.

Limited entry study due on October 15 The Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) is finishing up its study of Maine's limited-entry lobster licensing system. The study was mandated by the state legislature in 2011. Researchers at GMRI are evaluating the impact of the current system on Maine’s lobstering industry as well as on coastal communities and the lobster population itself. Confidential written surveys were mailed to more than 7,000 license holders, apprentices and individuals on the waiting list in mid-August. Additionally, a series of public listening sessions were held in each lobster zone in August and early September. The final evaluation will be released by GMRI on October 15 and will outline several options, including associated pros and cons, for the legislature to consider in January, 2013. After GMRI submits its evaluation, DMR Commissioner Pat Keliher and his staff will hold another series of public sessions to provide communities an opportunity to add to the findings of GMRI's report before the legislature considers the issue.

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