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  • MLCA

Meeting Roundup: March 2011

Lobster Advisory Council Maine’s new DMR Commissioner, Norman Olsen, introduced himself to the Lobster Advisory Council at its February 16 meeting. The Commissioner’s opening remarks were brief, and the Council quickly got down to business. DMR Acting Deputy Commissioner Pat Keliher provided an overview of several lobster related bills. While five lobster bill titles have been submitted, only two were printed and available for discussion. The DMR is working with the Marine Resources Committee to urge the Committee to schedule the public hearings on lobster-related bills at the same time. LD 307, An Act to Encourage Lobstering Traditions and Facilitate Retirement from Lobstering, garnered a lengthy discussion. This bill proposes that lobster licenses can be transferred to family members. Commissioner Olsen opened discussion on this bill by stating that he firmly opposes any bloodline transfer of licenses. He stated that the lobster industry’s limited entry system is only half a system because it lacks an exit strategy. It needs a transfer mechanism. He stated that he is receiving several requests each week from people seeking exemptions to the lobster limited entry system. This has been echoed in his discussions with legislators. The current system probably looked great to lobstermen when they were 35 years old. But now that these lobstermen are in their 60s, they will not find a place to sell their boats and gear with 5:1 exit ratios. LAC members responded that they would not support the sale of lobster permits, explaining that they purchased their licenses for a small fee and do not expect to profit from them. Council members asked if the Commissioner planned to take charge of this issue to move it forward. Commissioner Olsen responded that he would only be involved to the extent that lobstermen wanted to engage on this topic – he would not take charge. He is not pressing the issue, just acknowledging the problem exists. Several LAC members commented that bills similar to LD 307 have come before the Marine Resources Committee in recent years. They opposed the bills then, and oppose this one now. The LAC voted unanimously to oppose LD 307. The LAC polled its members to see if there was agreement that the LAC would oppose any bill that makes piecemeal changes to the management system. While Council members generally agreed, one member reminded the Council of the recent island license bill, which was a piecemeal change to the system, but is good for the islands. LD 371, An Act to Control Costs to the Lobster Industry, proposes to limit the use of trap tag fees so they cannot be used to fund management of the lobster fishery. Commissioner Olsen opened discussion stating that this bill cuts both ways. He said he understands that lobstermen don’t want to be nickel and dimed, but the DMR uses this revenue to support the lobster industry. He is leery of restricting the use of this fund, and stated that the new administration wants to keep costs down. The Commissioner promised complete transparency and will tell the industry why funds are needed and how they are spent. The DMR has lost $1.2 million in state General Fund revenue over the past 6 years. If this bill is passed, the lobster industry will lose services. States stand to lose additional funding with federal cuts, so caution is warranted. He suggested that supporters of this bill wait a year and then see how they feel about this issue. LAC members had a spirited discussion. On one side of the issue, members argued that DMR has always been transparent about how the tag money is spent. The LAC has been consulted and received an accounting of these funds. Seventy-five to eighty percent of the tag money funds marine patrol. Most lobstermen would be willing to pay more to maintain services. On the other side, Council members argued that lobstermen are discouraged by the continued increases in the costs of trap tags and believe that increases have been absorbed into the DMR budget. Trap tags were never intended to fund DMR. The scope of the fund has become too broad. In the end, however, the LAC voted 8-1 to oppose LD 371. The LAC discussed several other bills that have already been through public hearing. Commissioner Olsen raised concern over a series of bills directed at making changes to the salt water registry. His overarching concern is the proposal to move the salt water license program to Inland Fish & Wildlife. The DMR would lose $400,000 in revenue, and would not have any funds to dedicate to river herring restoration.  The DMR would still be responsible for enforcement. The LAC agreed that the salt water license should remain with DMR. The LAC voted unanimously to oppose any bill that would take the salt water license out of DMR. The Commissioner commented that he does not think there is any benefit to consolidating Maine DMR with any other state agency. He cited the Department of Homeland Security as an example of failed government consolidation. The LAC heard updates on the TAA program, DMR rulemaking, island limited entry program, TRT and the shrimp season. Jessica McKay provided an update on the 2011 new zone entrants. Col. Fessenden reported that they have been able to fill some marine patrol positions. New officers will be starting in Zones G, E and D. They have not filled all of the vacancies, but they are making progress. He reminded lobstermen that trap tags must be in place by June 1, so tags must be ordered by April 1. John Drouin asked about the status of the Zone A referendum for a four-trap trawl area. Commissioner Olsen stated that he does not think this should go through the rulemaking process. He believes that lobstermen should be able to work this out on their own. He plans to meet with lobstermen to discuss it. Pete McAleney raised the issue of the increases in minimum lobster size in states to our south. Much of Maine’s product is sold through New York and Connecticut. He reports that it is illegal to possess lobsters smaller than their minimum size (around 3-3/8 inches), and that Maine dealers are facing large fines if they ship chickens there. The LAC briefly discussed the status of the Maine lobster’s MSC application, but the report is still pending. Senator Brian Langley has been appointed as Maine’s Legislative representative to ASMFC, replacing Senator Damon. The Governor has not yet made his ASMFC appointment, which is now served by Pat White. The Commissioner stated that is looking for ways to economize, so there will be likely fewer DMR staff present at meetings. He voiced concern over debris from lobster fishing littering Maine’s coastline.

MLA Board Meeting The MLA board of directors held its monthly meeting in Rockland on February 23. At the meeting the directors reviewed old and new business and also assessed progress on the organization’s strategic plan, adopted in 2009. Executive director Patrice McCarron first introduced the MLA’s three new staff members. She then reviewed the MLA’s year-to-date expenditures and budget. Education coordinator Annie Tselikis gave an update on the TAA meetings held thus far. Of the 2,700 individuals registered for the program, 1,350 had completed the orientation, either online or in person, by February 23. Heather Tetreault, the MLA Whale Projects coordinator, reviewed progress on two projects: mapping lobster gear location and configuration and identifying best practices among lobstermen to limit large whale entanglement. Board members were asked to review the data Heather had compiled for each lobster zone and to make comments. Patrice presented summaries of the lobster-related bills that are before the state legislature or will be printed soon. She asked the directors to think about which of the bills had statewide implications and which were more local issues, suitable for the zone councils. The directors discussed each bill at length and instructed Patrice to prepare testimony on several. Patrice and MLA president David Cousens informed the directors about meetings they and other board members have had with DMR commissioner Norman Olsen and Governor LePage. Commissioner The board of directors then reviewed the MLA strategic plan to see what progress has been made since its adoption in 2009. Patrice noted that the organization is on target to meet its three major goals: represent the lobster industry on critical management issues, implement an education and outreach plan and reorganize the MLA.

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