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Meeting Roundup: May 2011

Lobster Advisory Council At its meeting on April 20, the Lobster Advisory Council elected Bob Baines of South Thomaston to continue as Council chairman and John Drouin of Cutler as vice-chairman. University of Maine researchers Dr. Ian Bricknell and Debbie Bouchard presented a summary of research conducted at the request of the LAC to investigate pathogen risks associated with imported bait. The study looked at the risks of a virulent strain of just one pathogen, Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia Virus IVb (VHSV IVb) in fresh water fish from the Great Lakes Region, known to have caused significant die-offs of 28 fish species. The UMaine study concluded that fish by-products imported from this region to Maine as lobster bait could introduce this pathogen. While it is unlikely that it would infect lobsters or that lobsters would become carriers, susceptible fresh water and marine finfish species would be at risk. As a result, export of live and processed seafood could be limited causing serious economic consequences. The report recommends monitoring and consideration of regulatory restrictions to ensure that VHSV IVb is not introduced to Maine. The LAC discussed its concerns regarding the growing use of non-indigenous baits. Because bait dealers are not licensed, there is a lack of knowledge regarding the quantity, type and origin of baits imported to Maine for the lobster fishery. DMR’s sea and port sampling programs have some data on changes in bait use over time. Members discussed using lot testing and chain of custody programs to ensure the safety of the bait supply. The LAC formed a working group to work with the Commissioner to further explore this issue. DMR’s Deputy Commissioner, Pat Keliher, provided an update on legislation. The DMR budget has been approved by both the Appropriations and Marine Resources Committees without significant changes from the department’s proposal. The LAC voted to oppose LD 1282, An Act to Increase Fairness in Lobster Fishing Licensure, and to support LD 1462, An Act to Amend the DMR’s Administrative Suspension Process. The Commissioner advised the Council that the issue of ending the zone lines has been brought to the Governor’s attention by a group of Stonington/Deer Isle lobstermen. A bill addressing the issue was introduced to the Legislature, but the bill was withdrawn. The Commissioner stated that he had not heard any majority support from the industry to suspend the zone lines and that such action could set precedent to suspend other Maine regulations outside three miles. He polled the LAC for feedback, with the majority of zone representatives speaking in opposition. Zone F representative Jeff Putnam, however,  reported support from the majority of lobstermen in his area affected by it and Zone C representative Dan MacDonald reported mixed feelings from his zone. Some members said that requiring only Zone F/G and Zone B/C lobstermen to double tag was unfair; the argument is that double tagging should be required by all or none. The Commissioner reminded LAC representatives that each zone can call for a referendum to negotiate between zones or to go to a statewide referendum if they desire to make changes. The LAC voted to allocate $25,000 to liberate seed lobsters. The DMR will provide recommendations for research funding priorities at a future meeting to aid the LAC in determining how to spend the balance of the $130,000 Lobster Seed Fund. Commissioner Olsen and Sarah Cotnoir provided an update on the development of the federal whale rules. The Commissioner stated that the DMR is reframing the conversation around “risk reduction” rather than vertical line reduction. The DMR held a meeting with two lobstermen from each zone to begin the process of developing industry-based strategies to reduce entanglement risk. NMFS will be hold scoping meetings in Maine this summer to get feedback on the range of possible conservation measures that would reduce risk to whales. Commissioner Olsen said that issues related to the Maine Lobster Promotion Council have occupied more of his time over the past month than anything else. Bob Baines presented a list of nominations to fill the four vacant seats on the MLPC. The Commissioner urged the LAC not to vote on nominations until the MLPC board vacancies are announced publicly and broad industry and public input is solicited. The LAC voted to table the nominations until a future meeting. The Commissioner stated that public notice of the MLPC vacancies would be made. Deputy Commissioner Terry Stockwell attended the meeting to discuss the beginning stages of Amendment 2 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Northern Shrimp. Due to early season closures of the northern shrimp fishery in 2010 and 2011, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Northern Shrimp Section is circulating a Public Information Document (PID) as the first stage of the amendment process. The PID is available through the DMR and ASMFC websites and presents a broad overview of issues facing the species. Concerned fishermen and stakeholders will have the opportunity to provide comment on the PID by either providing written comment or by attending a public hearings on May 2 at 6 p.m. at Ellsworth City Hall, May 4 at 6 p.m. at the Portland High School Library, and May 5 at 6 p.m. at the Rockland Middle School. DMR is proposing a rule-making change to clarify and strengthen the owner-operator law. The loophole allows family members with two boats to circumvent the owner operator law. The proposed rule would remove the license holder’s ability to set, haul, retrieve or take lobsters from a trap with a trap tag issued to a license holder who is then present on the vessel. The LAC unanimously approved this proposal in November 2010. Colonel Joe Fessenden provided an update on Marine Patrol Office (MPO), noting that the elver fishery had just started. With a huge demand and a limited supply, the market is fetching $800-$900 per pound for elvers; as a result he is anticipating increased illegal fishing effort at night and in fishways. He also reported that lobstermen appear to be ordering their trap tags well in advance of the June 1 deadline. Fessenden’s most pressing issue continues to be that of patrol personnel. MPO has been shorthanded for several years due to hiring freezes and budget constraints. Patrol is currently short on three officers in Zone G. One officer has been transferred from Zone F to G, and they will be hiring another new officer for southern Maine in May. Marine Patrol is awaiting approval to hire two or more additional wardens.

Lobster Zone Councils Zone B council met on April 7 to discuss island limited entry proposals. The discussion focused on the possible net effects of expanding the number of licenses on Swan’s Island and the Cranberry Islands. Members considered what an increase in licenses would do to the number of tags, the waiting list, and net effort within the zone. Some were concerned that the new licenses would not stick to the islands in question but could go with the lobstermen if they moved off island. A motion was made to refuse any increase in licenses within the zone and maintain the status quo in keeping with the state mandate to reduce effort. Eight members voted in favor of the motion, one abstained. Sarah Cotnoir, DMR, was asked to bring to the next meeting the results of the last referendum in the zone on establishing an exit ratio, and data on the number of licenses in the zone, the number of tags, and the names on the current waiting list. Members also voted unanimously against LD 1282, An Act to Increase Fairness in Lobster Fishing Licensure, which would have allowed apprentices to enter the fishery with the number of tags that were allowed at the time they signed up for the Apprentice Program. Zone G council met on April 11. Rep. Parry spoke to members about bills before the legislature and Kevin Plowman, U.S. Coast Guard, gave an update on the 2010 Coast Guard Reauthorization Act. Members voiced no support for LD 307, An Act to Encourage Lobstering Traditions and Facilitate Retirement from Lobstering, which would have allowed a lobsterman 65 years old and older to transfer his license to his child. Members expressed mixed feelings on LD 1282. They asked Sarah Cotnoir to bring to the next meeting a breakdown of the age of lobstermen in that zone and an analysis of how many people on the Zone G waiting list already had a license to fish in another zone. Zone C council met on April 14. The meeting was held in Deer Isle and members on North Haven, Isle au Haut and Vinalhaven participated through video conferencing. Members discussed a letter from Ginny Olsen concerning temporary medical waivers. Carl Wilson, DMR, gave an update on lobster research going on at DMR. Rep. Kumeiga and Rep. Chapman spoke about bills before the legislature. LD 1462, to amend the administrative suspension regulations, was discussed at length. Members voted unanimously against the proposed changes, preferring the status quo.

MLA Board of Directors The MLA board of directors met at Darby’s restaurant in Belfast on April 5. The MLA annual meeting minutes and the summary of the February strategic planning session were reviewed and accepted. Patrice McCarron, executive director, gave an update on the organization’s financials, stating that they were in good shape, particularly in comparison to past years. She noted that the biggest positive on the balance sheet was the newsletter, revenue for which is up $3,000 compared to last year. One member suggested sending the newsletter to non-commercial lobstermen as an membership incentive. Patrice said she would investigate the cost to do an insert. Patrice announced that a gift of $10,000 has been received from S. Donald Sussman to support MLA’s policy work. The directors would like to use this gift to leverage additional funding to expand MLA’s policy work. The Board also discussed the MLA Relief Fund and agreed to continue the fund through the summer months to raise additional funds. Patrice spoke about organizational restructuring to become the Maine Lobstermen’s Alliance. She said that the Department of Justice is now reviewing the consent decree. The MLA must get an ad in major papers seeking comment on the removal of the consent decree. The application to the IRS to become a nonprofit organization will be submitted soon. The Claws for a Cause program is going ahead for this summer. The purpose is to educate the public about Maine lobster and the MLA and generate revenue from lobster dinner sales. Sarah Paquette has been working on membership renewals, but the MLA has still fallen short of its membership goals for this year. MLA The directors need to make calls in their areas as well. Stephen Brooks of Brooks Trap Mill offered a challenge to reward the Director who recruited the most members with new lobster traps. The board decided that membership rates should be pro-rated because of the August renewal, but members should be encouraged to join through the upcoming membership year which ends in August 2012. The cost to do this would be $150. Patrice reminded the directors that the Island Institute’s support of the MLA newsletter ends on May 31. She also mentioned that the new Web site, Maine Landings, is close to being completed. The USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service has issued a notice that TAA program participants will only receive $1,200 for completing 12 hours of workshops and a simple business plan; and up to $2,300 for completing a long-term business plan. Annie Tselikis, state that the workshop curruculum and in-person trainings should be ready in May. Many of the legislative bills that were of concern to the MLA have been withdrawn by their sponsors. Two bills on transferring licenses are still to be heard, but there seems to be strong opposition to them. On right whale rules, Patrice explained that NMFS is going to go with vertical line reductions based on the presence of right whales, and potentially humpback whales, but fin whales will not be included. The computer model used by NMFS shows that these whales interact the most with fishing gear along a route located around the 50 fathom line in the Gulf of Maine. NMFS is asking the states to create management measures to reduce possible whale entanglements. DMR will hold meetings this summer with lobstermen about what measures are reasonable. The Governor’s appointed seat to the ASMFC, currently held by Pat White, expires in January 2012, according to Governor Lepage’s office. MLA will engage the administration to find capable and qualified nominees who can represent the lobster industry in this important management arena. The MLA Directors discussed concerns that have been voiced by many in the industry regarding a lack of confidence in the Maine Lobster Promotion Council. Bob Baines made a motion, seconded by Jason Joyce, to form a subcommittee to continue discussions on this topic and report back to the full board. All in favor.

Northeast Large Whale Take Reduction Team Subgroup Meeting The National Marine Fisheries Service convened the Northeast Subgroup of the Take Reduction Team via conference call on April 19. The Team continued its discussions on refining the co-occurrence model which will be used to guide management decisions for the vertical line rule. NMFS sought feedback from the TRT on whether to include only right whales in the co-occurrence model or to include both right and humpback whales. The TRT was mixed on this, so NMFS will continue to seek additional comments. NMFS is tentatively scheduled to conduct scoping meetings to get input from the public on how to reduce vertical line risk to large whales from endlines during July and August. NMFS also asked TRT members which specific areas should be targeted for management based on feedback from the co-occurrence model. NMFS presented the question of whether only the areas with the highest co-occurrence scores should be considered or if management should consider some combination of the risk spectrum. The TRT was unable to reach consensus on identifying management areas. Some team members expressed a clear preference to remove “massive” amounts of rope from the water and broad-based reductions of vertical lines. The co-occurrence model could then be used to identify additional strategic measures for the “hot zones.” There was concern that the fishing effort data is not precise enough to guarantee that adequate amounts of rope will be taken out of the water if management occurs only at a fine scale. Others expressed a preference to manage at a finer scale based on the results of the co-occurrence model. The model was developed to allow the flexibility to manage where the likelihood of whales and fishing co-occurrence is highest. TRT members stressed the need for NMFS to provide members of the fishing industry with a goal or target level to reduce the risk associated with vertical lines to large whales. NMFS said that it will outline its goals and strategies for reducing risk in the scoping document, which should be available by July. The TRT discussed the range of conservation measures that NMFS will present during the scoping process. NMFS stressed that these will not be management proposals but rather a range of management options that could be used. NMFS will include the concepts of area closures, endline caps, trawl length restrictions, one endline for trawls, and whale-friendly endline modifications. Finally, NMFS will also seek feedback on potential gear marking options during the scoping meetings. At a minimum, NMFS will continue with the status quo for gear marking. While the agency continues to develop high technology gear marking strategies, none are ready for implementation. TRT members suggested not including gear marking in the rule unless Canada is able to implement a complimentary gear marking system. Others suggested marking gear by whatever management sub-areas are created through the vertical line plan and basing additional ideas on the results of the gear marking paper which NMFS published in 2010. NMFS anticipates holding scoping meetings in Maine in July or August, then convening a full Take Reduction Team meeting in early winter to discuss the information gleaned from the meetings. The final rule for vertical line risk reduction is expected in 2014. For more information on the TRT or to view the results of the co-occurrence model, visit http://www.nero.noaa.gov/whaletrp/trt/meetings/nesubgroup.html.

2011 Lobstermen’s Town Meeting More than 70 lobstermen and industry members from Canada and the United States gathered in Saint John, New Brunswick for the Lobster Institute’s eighth annual Canadian/U.S. Lobstermen’s Town Meeting on March 25 and 26. The topic for the 2011 Town Meeting was “Opportunities & Challenges in the Lobster Industry’s Future.” Attendees discussed topics including the quality and quantity of bait, ocean acidification, whale take reduction, international shipping regulations and current marketing efforts, and methods to attract young lobstermen to participate as stewards of the lobster fishing industry. The meeting kicked off with brief presentations on bait issues. Maddelyn Harden, a student in marine sciences and economics at the University of Maine (UMaine), spoke about her study on how much bait is needed to catch lobster. She was followed by a presentation by Dr. Robert Bayer, executive director of the Lobster Institute, who reported on a study by Dr. Ian Bricknell and Deborah Bouchard, of UMaine, looking at the safety of substitutes for herring bait. Friday afternoon sessions included presentations by Josh Hall from UMaine and Brad Warren, director of global ocean health program/sustainable fisheries partnership, on trends in ocean acidification and possible effects on lobsters and their environment. Whale take reduction activities in the Gulf of Maine were reviewed by Dr. Moira W. Brown, senior scientist at the New England Aquarium and the Canadian Whale Institute, David Gouveia, marine mammal protection coordinator at NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, and Harvey Millar, area manager with the Department of Fisheries & Oceans, Canada. On Saturday, talk turned to marketing issues and opportunities. Jon Cowles of East Coast Seafood & Paturel International participated via Skype and outlined the complexity and variety of regulations related to international shipping of lobster and lobster products. He was followed by Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada, who relayed findings from the 2010 report titled “Long Term Value Strategy for the Canadian Lobster Industry,” and Dane Somers, executive director of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council, who gave a progress report on efforts to establish and fund a U.S. National Seafood Marketing Coalition. Before leaving, attendees were asked to list one or two key action items they felt were of highest priority that emerged as a result of discussions during the course of the Town Meeting. Highest priority items included: increase and find a way to fund marketing efforts, particularly joint marketing; find methods of ensuring the safety of any/all baits used in the lobster fishery; find ways to involve young lobstermen in stewardship; find more cost-cutting possibilities for fishermen. A summary report and full transcript of the Town Meeting will available on the Lobster Institute’s Web site (www.lobterinstitute.org). For more information, contact Deb Seekins at 207-581-1443 or deb.seekins@umit.maine.edu.

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