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Lobster Advisory Council Meeting

Jeff Putnam of Chebeague Island is the Lobster Advisory Council Chair. Photo courtesy Old Port Magazine

The Lobster Advisory Council (LAC) met on April 27. I assume that none of us reading this really thought that the 6-year pause on new restrictions pertaining to right whales meant that we could sit back and enjoy some quiet time.

DMR Commissioner Keliher explained in detail why he intended to make a motion at the upcoming ASMFC meeting for a gauge increase that would take effect once a trigger level was hit. The discussion was focused on the nuances of market impact, the difference in Canadian retention practices and how areas outside of LMA1 would be affected.

The conversation is an example of the importance of the LAC. The broad spectrum of lobstermen at the table, some of whom fish next to Canadians and some of whom fish next to the Massachusetts fleet, is beneficial to the policy makers. We each brought a unique perspective and were able to look at the gauge increase impacts and explain how these proposals affect different areas.

We are in a time when a new term or phrase is presented at almost every meeting. The latest is “passive acoustic monitoring (PAM).” Did you know that DMR and the University of Maine have around 20 acoustic sensors in LMA’s 1 and 3 to record the sounds whales make in the water? The term “passive” means that the monitor detects and records noise and the time and makes the data available when it is retrieved. These PAMs will be used, along with harvester reporting, federally permitted vessel tracking devices, and DMR’s new analysts to build the case that we all know is true: Maine lobstermen do not present real risk to North Atlantic right whales. Federal funding that our Congressional delegation and DMR secured will be put to use immediately to counter the false assertions that have been presented in previous right whale risk models created by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The DMR relies on LAC members to provide input, but we also have to go back to our zones and harbors and relay the reasons why new regulations (such as 100% reporting) are important in the long run. Believe it or not, the DMR is not just compiling boatloads of information for the fun of it!

The LAC also received an update on offshore wind. We all have followed the process that the Governor’s Energy Office has taken on the proposed offshore wind research array. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) held a two-day task force meeting in Bangor on May 10 and 11 to update the public on that research array lease and also to lay the groundwork for commercial offshore wind leasing in the Gulf of Maine. The LAC has voiced its opposition to offshore wind in the past. No changes to that sentiment were presented at this meeting.

The LAC appreciates that Marine Patrol always attends the meeting to learn how any new regulations will affect lobstermen. They also update us on staffing changes, plans for patrol boat upgrades, and enforcement compliance rates.

We also understand that DMR spends considerable time in the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee. While we are fishing or doing onshore gear work, DMR staff are attending hearings and work sessions on bills that affect our fisheries. The LAC was updated on a broad range of proposed bills, from state territorial waters changes to menhaden license qualification changes.

Since the LAC and lobster zone councils all met this spring, we’ll probably take a break for the summer. Please be thinking about what the industry can do proactively to prepare for the inevitable changes that we will face in the years to come. What can we do now to leave our younger fishermen an industry that they are willing to devote their heart and soul to in the way that we have? Those are the topics that I want to have on the agenda for the next round of meetings.

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