Legislature Gets a Slow Start on Lobster Bills

 

First published in Landings, March, 2017

The first session of the 128th Legislature started slowly with regard to lobster-related bills. With more than 15 bills submitted that would affect the lobster industry, public hearings have been held on just three; eight bills had not yet been printed as of the end of February.

Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher speaking before the Marine Resources Committee. The Department is proposing an increase in marine licenses to stem a budget shortfall. MLA photo.

On February 13, the Marine Resources Committee co-chaired by Senator Joyce Maker (R-Calais) and Representative Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) heard testimony on three lobster bills. LD 14 An Act to Extend the Legal Hours for Harvesting Lobster, sponsored by Rep. Kumiega, proposes to extend the legal hours to harvest lobsters during the month of October by changing the time fishing can begin in the morning from ½ before sunrise to 5 a.m. The DMR opposed this bill, citing concern that it would increase opportunity for night hauling and strain enforcement. The MLA and a few others from the lobster industry testified in favor of the bill. The MLA noted that the start time for hauling has been a long-standing issue for Downeast lobstermen and that LD 14 proposed a good compromise.

LD 113 An Act to Stabilize Lobster Bait Prices, sponsored by Rep. Alley of Beals, proposes to stabilize the price of lobster bait through measures such as increasing the number of people that may fish for bait; amending the limits on specific species of bait; and amending restrictions on the types of species that may be used as bait. The DMR, MLA and several representatives from the herring industry opposed this bill. The primary concern is that bait is managed through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the New England Fishery Management Council and therefore the Legislature does not have the jurisdiction to override these management plans. Additionally, the proposals put forward are likely to destabilize the bait fishery.

LD 201 An Act to Provide Flexibility in the Purchase of Lobster Trap Tags, sponsored by Rep. Kumiega, proposes to allow a lobsterman to purchase up to the maximum number of trap tags purchased under that license in any previous year. The DMR supported this bill, citing that it could help the department manage latent effort by allowing lobstermen to purchase only the number of the tags they want to fish each year. The MLA opposed this bill, raising concern that it would have a fiscal impact on DMR at a time when the department is seeking to increase license fees.

Members of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association meet to discuss lobster bills. MLA photo

In February, the Appropriations and Financial Affairs and Marine Resources Committees held a joint public hearing on the DMR’s budget that includes a proposed increase in marine license fees to fund a $600,000 budget shortfall. The MLA testified that it does not agree with the premise that a flat-funded budget scenario is necessary and strongly opposed looking to the lobster industry to fill that gap. Given the lobster fishery’s importance to the state, the MLA urged the Appropriations Committee to take a stand in support of Maine’s lobstermen and fund the DMR’s budget as proposed, without raising commercial fishing license fees.

The Marine Resources Committee scheduled public hearings on two lobster bills on March 1. LD 373 An Act to Create Pathways to Enter Alternative Marine Industries, sponsored by Rep. Alley, proposes to allow a person who has completed a lobster and crab fishing apprenticeship to enter a lottery to be allowed to engage in scallop harvesting during the lobstering off-season. LD 392 An Act Regarding Legal Lobster Haul Times outside the 3-mile Line, sponsored by Rep. Tuell, proposes to allow Zone A lobstermen to haul gear without any time of day restrictions in federal waters (outside 3 miles).

The Marine Resources Committee has scheduled public hearings on three additional lobster bills on March 6. LD 149 An Act to Provide Additional Management for Limited-entry Lobster Zones, sponsored by Rep. Hubbell, is a concept draft that proposes several ideas to limit the amount of traps lobstermen can fish outside of their declared home zone. Ideas include limiting lobstermen to no more than 25% outside their home zone; not allowing new entrants to fish traps outside their home zone; ensuring parity of effort of second zone tags between zones; and requiring that most restrictive management measures are followed. Rep. Hubbell also sponsored LD 616 An Act to Ensure Consistent Access to Limited Entry Lobster Zones, which proposes to prohibit new entrants to the lobster fishery from fishing lobster gear outside their declared lobster zone. LD 575 An Act to Improve Enforcement of Maine’s Lobster Laws, sponsored by Sen. Langley, was put in at the request of the MLA based on feedback from an industry-wide survey on enforcement. This concept draft looks at establishing minimum penalties for certain lobster violations as a deterrent to violating the law. It also explores requiring lobster license holders found guilty of violating marine conservation laws to pay restitution to the state, and require lobster license holders convicted of marine resource violations resulting in a license suspension who re-enter the lobster fishery to re-enter as a new entrant and to have a vessel monitoring system aboard the vessel. 

LD 252 An Act to Improve the Safety in the Disposal of Marine Flares, sponsored by Rep. McCreight, has not been scheduled for a public hearing before the Public Safety Committee. This bill proposes the establishment of a program for the collection and disposal of expired marine flares and for public education regarding expired marine flares.

The Marine Resources Committee hears testimony on proposed bills. MLA photo.

Eight additional lobster bills, including four bills from DMR, have been submitted as bill titles, but have not yet been printed. LR 743 An Act to Make Technical Changes to Maine’s Marine Resources Laws, submitted by DMR, proposes to allow lobster demonstration licenses to fish on Sunday; clarifies that it is illegal for lobstermen to use offal as bait and that it is illegal to sell offal as bait; and clarifies language that the Commissioner may permanently revoke a license for scrubbing lobsters.

LR 745 An Act to Prevent Marine Debris, submitted by DMR, proposes to make it illegal to take bait packaging aboard the vessel in order to prevent debris being dumped in the ocean. LR 750 An Act Regarding Enforcement of Marine Resources Laws and Suspensions of Marine Resources Licenses, submitted by DMR, proposes to allow the Commissioner to suspend marine resources licenses when certain crimes such as theft, offenses against public administrators, and arson and property destruction are committed. This bill also proposes that when a person signs for a marine license, he or she is also consenting to inspection, such the covert use of trackers on the vessel, if there is probable cause that he or she has violated a marine resource law. The DMR deems this legislative change necessary to get control of offshore violations. LR 751 An Act to Extend the Time for an Appeal of License Denial for Military Members, submitted by DMR, proposes that future veterans who want to get their lobster license back are no longer subject to any limit on length of time of military service as long as they had at least 50 landing days in the lobster fishery.

Four of the lobster-related bills submitted by legislators have not yet printed. LR 1184 An Act to Give the Department of Marine Resources Flexibility with Licensing in the Herring Fishery is sponsored by Rep. Parry. This bill proposes to give the DMR Commissioner the authority to manage herring fishermen depending on how recently they have had landings in Maine. This bill would enable Maine to comply with potential changes to the herring management plan through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. LR 1746 An Act to Address Marine Debris Resulting for Commercial Activities is sponsored by Rep. Devin. This is a concept bill to address marine debris resulting from commercial fishing and aquaculture lease sites. There is no information available on the proposed language of two of the bills, LR 1348 An Act to Amend the Laws Regarding Marine Resources, sponsored by Rep. Kumiega and LR 1743 An Act to Incentivize Private Investment of Lobster Processing in Maine, sponsored by Sen. Carson.

Bills can be tracked online at www.legislature.maine.gov. Bills that begin with “LR” (Legislative Record) are not printed; bills that begin with “LD” (Legislative Document) are printed so the full text of the bill and tracking is available. An update on the Marine Resources Committee is distributed weekly. Contact the Committee clerk, Julia Brown at 207-287-1337 or email Julia.Brown@Legislature. Maine.gov.