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Maine Lobstermen's Association update: May 2015


Legislative UpdateLobster Bills Voted Ought to Pass LD 98 An Act Amending the Trap Limit for the Swans Island Lobster Conservation Area (Emergency); Sponsored by Sen. Langley. This bill increases the number of traps for lobstermen in the Swans Island Lobster Conservation Area trap tags from 550 to 600. The Marine Resources Committee unanimously supported this bill during a work session on February 25; it has not yet been voted by the full House and Senate. As an emergency measure, it will go into effect upon the Governor’s signing. LD 730 An Act To Make Technical Changes to Maine’s Marine Resources Laws; DMR bill sponsored by Sen. Baker. This bill makes several technical and clarifying changes to Maine’s marine resources laws. Those relevant to the lobster industry include: 1) Clarifies that a student lobster and crab fishing license holder may designate up to three sponsors; 2) Deletes the Kittery lobster trawl limit from statute and instead includes it in rule along with all other trawl limits; 3) Clarifies that a student lobster and crab fishing license holder must declare a lobster management zone and may not fish a majority of the license holder’s gear outside the declared zone; and 4) Provides that the coordinates for the Swans Island Lobster Conservation Area are presented in latitude and longitude format and not Loran format. The Marine Resources Committee held a public hearing on March 25 and none of the provisions affecting the lobster industry were controversial. The Marine Resources Committee voted ought to pass as amended on April 1. It was amended so that nonresidents who hold aquaculture leases or license not be issued commercial shellfish licenses. LD 1038 An Act To Amend the Emergency Rule-making Authority of the Department of Marine Resources; DMR bill sponsored by Sen. Langley. This bill expands the emergency rule-making authority of the DMR Commissioner to allow the DMR to amend rules to expand opportunity in a fishery if the amendment is in compliance with a federal or interstate fisheries management plan. The Marine Resources Committee voted ought to pass as amended on April 8. The amendment expands the Commissioner’s emergency rulemaking authority to adopt rules to comply with changes to a federal or interstate fisheries management plan. HC 87 ASMFC Appointment  On March 11, the Speaker of the House and Senate President appointed Senator Brian Langley of Hancock to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission pursuant to authority under Title 12, MRSA, Chapter 419, §4652. Lobster Bills Pending Vote (as of late April) LD 800 An Act To Prevent Passage of Alewives through the Grand Falls Dam on the St. Croix River; Sponsored by Rep. Turner. This bill proposes to block the fishway on the Grand Falls Dam on the St. Croix River to prevent passage of river herring into the lakes that form the headwaters of the river. The Marine Resources Committee held a public hearing on April 27 and work session on April 29. LD 1233 An Act To Improve Enforcement of Maine’s Marine Resources Laws; DMR bill sponsored by Sen. Burns. This bill amends the laws governing the enforcement of the marine resources laws. The proposals related to lobstering include: 1) changing the penalty for scrubbing egged lobsters from a one-year license suspension to license revocation; and 2) amending the consent to inspection provision to allow covert electronic surveillance by the Bureau of Marine Patrol, including allowing the bureau to place electronic surveillance equipment on lobster vessels for the purpose of determining if a license holder is fishing over the trap limit. Other provisions in the bill include: 1) specifying that notices of penalties and hearings are deemed received three days after they are mailed; 2) imposing a time limit of up to 60 days for an administrative hearing on a license suspension to be held, in order to prevent an individual from continually delaying a license suspension; 3) specifying that notice of failure to comply with monthly reporting requirements must be by mail or by serving the notice in hand and not by e-mail or telephone; 4) authorizing the DMR to deny the renewal of a license for an elver harvester or elver dealer who has not paid a fine assessed to that harvester or dealer for buying or selling elvers in excess of that harvester’s or dealer’s quota. The Marine Resources Committee held the public hearing on April 29. LD 1227 An Act To Provide for Improved Reporting of Marine Resources Landings; DMR bill sponsored by Rep. Kruger. This bill proposes changes to the marine resources licensing laws to facilitate use of the transaction card system for electronic dealer reporting that was successfully implemented in Maine’s elver fishery in 2014. Specifically, it provides that an individual who holds a dealer’s license may be required to obtain equipment specified by the Department of Marine Resources in order to engage in licensed activities. Additionally, it specifies that in the sea urchin and scallop fisheries the license holder must be the individual who sells the harvested product because only the license holder will be issued a transaction card. It also prohibits a holder of a wholesale seafood license from dealing in scallops without the holder’s obtaining a scallop permit which permits the holder to buy scallops from harvesters and to sell, process, ship or transport scallops. The Marine Resources Committee held a public hearing on April 29. LD 1026 An Act To Make Confidential the E-mail Addresses of Applicants for Department of Marine Resources Licenses; DMR bill sponsored by Rep. Parry. This bill proposes that an e-mail address recorded on a license application be kept confidential except for the use of department personnel or law enforcement personnel or for the purpose of court proceedings. The Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on April 28. LD 427 An Act To Address and Mitigate the Effects of Marine Debris; Sponsored by Rep. Devin. This bill is a concept draft which proposes to address and mitigate plastic pollution in the marine environment, including but not limited to micro-debris pollution (particles of plastic approximately 5 to 10 microns). The Marine Resources Committee held a public hearing and awork session, but tabled the bill citing a need for more information. LD 493 An Act To Create the Ocean Acidification Council; Sponsored Rep. Devin. This bill would establish the 16-member Ocean Acidification Council to identify, study, prevent, remediate and mitigate the direct and indirect effects of coastal and ocean acidification on commercially grown and harvested species in the State’s coastal and ocean environments. The council must submit an annual report to the Legislature and may accept funding from outside sources. The council is repealed December 31, 2018. The Marine Resources Committee held a public hearing on March 11; more than 16 groups submitted testimony. Maine DMR and DEP opposed the bill while a variety of organizations, academia, and businesses supported it. The bill was tabled during a work session on April 8. LD 896 An Act To Improve Lobster Licensing; Sponsored by Rep. Alley. This bill proposes that a lobsterman may transfer his license if the recipient has completed the Apprentice Program and purchases the vessel and maximum traps on the license from the license holder. The lobster license can only be transferred to a family member. The recipient does not have to go on the zone waiting list. This bill further proposes that a retired marine patrol officer is eligible for a lobster and crab fishing license without completing the Apprentice Program, but must go onto a zone waiting list. The retired MPO would be limited to 400 traps. Finally, this bill proposes that lobstermen not have to do the mandatory logbook program more than four times in any 10-year period. A public hearing was held on April 6 with no support for the bill. The bill was tabled during a work session on April 8. Marine-related Bonds Pending Vote LD 998 An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Collect Data on and To Monitor Ocean Acidification; Sponsored by Rep. Parry. The funds provided by this bond issue, in the amount of $3,000,000, will be used to collect data, monitor waterways and perform tests related to increasing ocean acidity along the Maine coast and its impact on natural wildlife and commercially important species, such as lobsters and clams. LD 254 An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Support Waterfront Development; Sponsored by Sen. Haskell. The funds provided by this bond issue, in the amount of $10,000,000, will be used to fund a grant program to invest in projects that contribute to economic activity, environmental protection and community development along Maine’s waterfronts. It also enacts a grant program for waterfront development, which is modeled after the Riverfront Community Development Program. Lobster Bills Voted Ought Not to Pass LD 490 An Act To Extend the Legal Hours for Harvesting Lobster LD 491 An Act To Lower from 70 to 65 the Age at Which a Person May Obtain a Lobster and Crab Fishing License for a Reduced Fee LD 492 An Act To Expand Eligibility for Lobster and Crab Fishing Licenses for Veterans (Emergency)LD 563 An Act Regarding the Purchase of Trap Tags in the Lobster FisheryLD 1016 An Act To Allow Retired Marine Patrol Officers To Obtain up to 2 Marine Fisheries LicensesLD 425 An Act To Prohibit False Labelling of Marine Organisms


MLA comments on federal, state issues As the state’s oldest fishermen’s organization, the MLA takes seriously its responsibility to protect the ability of Maine’s lobstermen to make their living from the ocean, whether they are members of the MLA or not. Consequently, April was a busy month for the MLA staff. Official comments were due on a variety of federal, state and regional issues which affect lobstermen, from expansion of protected habitat for right whales to the passage of alewives on the St. Croix River. Here below are excerpts the MLA’s comments. NMFS regulations on lobster gear marking This letter is submitted on behalf of Maine’s four lobster industry groups, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA), Downeast Lobstermen’s Association (DELA), Southern Maine’s Lobstermen’s Association (SMLA) and Maine Lobstering Union (MLU), in response to National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed rule NOAA-NMFS-2015-0127 to amend the regulations implementing the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan (ALWTRP). We remain concerned about the requirement to expand the size and frequency of gear marking outside the exemption line since the additional marks proposed are redundant. As we have previously indicated, all lobster buoys and traps are marked or tagged with a lobsterman’s license information. The additional marking requirements are extremely labor intensive and operationally problematic because of lobstermen’s practice in lengthening and adding lines to fish in deeper waters. And, as marks wear off and foul over the season, it will continue to be difficult to keep all ropes properly marked… We are … receiving feedback from lobstermen that they need more time to add the second colored mark to the ropes to be required in these areas. Affected Maine lobstermen could be in full compliance with this requirement by June 2016; but it would be extremely difficult to manage and remark rope before then because their gear has already been prepared for the 2015 fishing season. Accordingly, we support Commissioner Keliher’s request to extend the deadline for implementing the gear marking requirement in these areas to June 2016. Proposed expansion of critical habitat for North Atlantic right whales This letter is submitted on behalf of Maine’s four lobster industry groups, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA), Downeast Lobstermen’s Association (DELA), Southern Maine’s Lobstermen’s Association (SMLA) and Maine Lobstering Union (MLU), in response to National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed rule NOAA-NMFS-2014-0085 to replace the critical habitat for right whales with two new areas… …e oppose the designation area as proposed. As the Commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) has indicated in his comments, the area proposed for designation is not based on the best available science and includes vast areas for which there is no scientific evidence to support inclusion. We urge NMFS to carefully review Maine DMR’s rationale for moving the shoreward Gulf of Maine critical habitat (Unit 1) boundary to the 100 M contour. We also urge that all areas that are not essential to right whale conservation be excluded from critical habitat, consistent with the requirements of the applicable federal regulations and the Endangered Species Act (ESA)… Maine’s lobster industry has been engaged in the Take Reduction Team process since its inception and our fishermen have worked diligently over nearly two decades to implement changes in our fishing practices to aid in the recovery of right whales. We are very skeptical about the potential impact of any new federal regulations on our fishermen and do not believe that the proposed designation area reflects a balanced review of the best available science, nor does it properly weigh the economic impacts that will result from using an arbitrarily drawn critical habitat area that fails to exclude all areas that are not essential for conservation and recovery of the species… Prohibiting alewives on the St. Croix River MLA president David Cousens testified before the Joint Committee on Marine Resources against LD 800 which would once again close the St. Croix River to alewife passage. The MLA strongly opposes LD 800. The MLA has advocated for unconstrained passage of alewives on the St. Croix since its blockage in the 1990’s. We were here just two years ago in support of allowing alewife passage on the St. Croix and were pleased that passage was finally allowed. It is important that the St. Croix remain open to allow its native run of alewives to spawn… Out of necessity, Maine lobstermen have diversified their bait supply beyond our local staples of herring and menhaden. Our industry is now relying more and more on baits imported from distant, international and fresh water sources… Yet we have a tremendous underutilized local bait source right here in Maine. The alewife run on the St. Croix River has historically provided a rich source of alewives for our fishermen. But in recent history it has provided hardly any due to its blockage. This was bad policy that hurt Maine lobstermen, weakened our coastal economy and threatened our environment. Fortunately, after years of discussion and debate, the Legislature changed the law to allow alewife passage to resume on the St. Croix in 2012… The MLA urges you to show leadership and maintain unconstrained alewife passage on the St. Croix River. ASMFC Amendment 3 to the Northern shrimp management plan The Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) is providing comments on the Public Information Document (PID) for Amendment 3 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Northern Shrimp. The shrimp fishery has traditionally served as an important supplemental winter fishery for many Maine lobstermen. It has provided much needed economic opportunity for Maine’s owner operator small boat fleet based in communities spanning the length of the Maine coast during the winter months when the inshore lobster fishery is dormant… The lobster industry has enjoyed tremendous success in recent decades through continued record landings. The lobster industry’s success is due in large part to our long-standing protection of spawning females, the use of passive gear and our owner-operator provision. The MLA urges the Commission to consider how these proven approaches could be adapted to shrimp management… The MLA strongly urges the Commission to develop a flexible management approach that supports a more stable and sustainable shrimp fishery able to provide fishing opportunity for a diverse group of vessels. The MLA supports continued open access to the shrimp fishery coupled with a season that allows the majority of shrimp to drop their eggs before they are harvested and effort controls to allow Maine’s trappers as well as our mid coast and downeast fishermen the opportunity to access the resource before allowable catches are reached. The MLA supports the establishment of state by state allocation of Total Allowable Catch (TAC), rather than a limited entry system, as the best method to achieve this… The impact of gear selectivity should also be considered in future management approaches. While the MLA continues to support the continuation of the both the trawl and trap fishery for shrimp, shrimp landings data show that trappers are generally more apt to catch females after egg hatch than trawlers. Further, the trap fishery is a lower volume fishery and most fishermen report that the quality of trapped shrimp is typically superior to trawl shrimp, and the price per pound is consistently higher. Exploring opportunities for future growth in the trap sector would allow more fishermen to participate in the fishery while maximizing the value of the shrimp and minimizing the overall impact on the resource by targeting Stage II females… Under the current management system shrimp trappers did not have an equal opportunity to access the resource by being allocated limited quota and a delayed start. Further, fishermen located in downeast areas did not have an opportunity to access the shrimp resource in recent years, at a time when nearly all the landings would be comprised of Stage II females, because the quota had already been reached before the shrimp were catchable…. The MLA urges the Commission not to implement a limited entry system, but rather to implement a management approach which protects spawning females, examines the impact of gear on the resource and allows Maine fishermen from the entire length of the coast an opportunity to access the resource. New England Fisheries Management Council’s Omnibus fisheries habitat amendment The Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) offers our feedback on the preferred alternatives recommended by the Habitat Committee on the Omnibus Habitat Amendment. It has been a daunting process and the actions taken through this amendment will impact many species and fishermen… The MLA urges the Council to consider explicitly allowing lobster gear to continue to be fished in the range of closures proposed in the Habitat Amendment until the potential impacts of lobster gear on these closures can be resolved with guidance from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC)… MLA’s overarching concern on the Habitat Committee’s recommendations is that it remains unclear how these proposals might impact lobster trap gear in the future. While it is our understanding that none of the preferred alternatives currently exclude lobster trap gear, we remain concerned that it could be prohibited at a future date… The MLA opposes the inclusion of the shrimp exemption area (Alternative 8) as part of the preferred alternatives for the Western Gulf of Maine. Alternative 8 is premature at this time given that a new shrimp plan is under development by ASMFC. It seems counter-intuitive to open more bottom to a stock that is currently depleted without considering how it fits into the larger management framework or impacts the status of the resource. Draft right whale stock assessment The Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) submits this letter in response to National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed rule NOAA-NMFS-2014-0117 on the 2014 Atlantic Draft Stock Assessment (SAR), and specifically for the North Atlantic Right Whale. The MLA is concerned that the draft 2014 North Atlantic right whale SAR does not use the best available science throughout the assessment report. This draft SAR continues to characterize the species based on data from the 1980’s, 1990’s and early 2000’s, rather than with the most recent data and research available. Therefore, this draft SAR does not present a balanced assessment of the progress and recovery made by North Atlantic right whales over the last decade; instead it focuses on the concerns raised in the literature published in previous decades. The draft North Atlantic right whale SAR also lacks an adequate discussion of recent changes in, and factors contributing to, North Atlantic right whale distribution over the last five years during which time fewer right whales are being seen in their known historic habitats. The MLA is very concerned with how the changes in the predictability of sightings will impact future population estimates for the species… The Maine lobster industry remains committed to working with through the Take Reduction Team process to manage fishery interactions with North Atlantic right whales. It is important that the SAR adequately reflect all of the positive changes in the right whale population, in addition to its challenges.


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