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NMFS vertical line scoping meetings

Despite the fact that the topic of the scoping meetings was impending vertical line rules, lobstermen at all the meetings expressed frustration about the sinking line rule which came into force in 2009. “How can you expect us to do more if you don’t know if that has worked?” asked Lewis Bishop, a Frenchboro lobsterman. NMFS staff replied that it was still too early to tell. According to Gouveia, the agency will evaluate if the sinking line is working after five years of implementation.  In the meantime, NMFS must move forward with vertical line regulations. “Does anyone talk about the losses and economic impact when you can’t even substantiate the benefit? The exemption line cuts right through the island. You can fish float rope on one side and not the other. How does that help whales? It makes no sense at all,” Bishop commented with great frustration. Gouveia explained that NMFS is not required to document the economic impacts of a regulation after it is in place, only BEFORE the regulation is implemented. “That is wrong,” said Jack Merrill, an Islesford lobsterman. Dave Thomas, another Islesford lobsterman, stated, “I want to go on record to move the exemption line to the three mile line.” When asked what the state’s position was on this, Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Olsen responded, “In all reasonableness, it should out, there are factors that the state of Maine by itself cannot control.” “Is it any wonder that fishermen are wary of beginning the next round of discussions?” Senator Olympia Snowe asked in a written comment read by her staff at each meeting. “That is why it is critical that the fishing industry is engaged early to help identify options that will be feasible and safe under working conditions at sea. I expect that the agency will to seek to work more collaboratively with fishermen during this rulemaking to identify feasible options.” NMFS wants proposals that use gear modifications, such as “trawling up” or weak rope on the top portion of the endline, provided the reduction in risk is measurable. Lobstermen at the Rockland meeting stated emphatically that “trawling up” was not an option unless it was at least 12 miles from shore. Lobstermen from the other regions warned that any option requiring “trawling up” would require two endlines for safety. Gouveia said that “trawling up” was simply a possible method to demonstrate how the model could assist the management process, not necessarily the solution. A proposal that would require lobstermen to report the number of endlines fished and gear configuration on an annual basis got mixed reviews from lobstermen. Some argued that this information should be mandatory while others disagreed. “If you want accurate data, don’t make it mandatory,” commented Buzzy Kinney, a Criehaven lobsterman. Other ideas offered to NMFS included asking the conservation groups to set up a fund to reimburse lobstermen for the cost of saving whales or establishing a federal program to buy-back lobster licenses. “You’ll have to pry it out of my hands from my grave,” commented Jim Tripp, a South Thomaston lobsterman.


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