Meeting Roundup: August 2011

First published in the MLA Newsletter, August, 2011

MLA July Directors meeting summary

July 19, 2011, Belfast: Patrice McCarron provided a financial update to the board and reported that the MLA continues to be in good fiscal standing. Membership renewal will go out this summer and includes an appeal to non-commercial harvesters.

Patrice and David Cousens reported favorably on their meeting with Governor LePage and his staff on July 11. Governor LePage asked specific questions concerning transferability of lobster licenses, processing of oversized lobsters, the three-mile line and zone council rules, and dragging for lobsters. He was very engaged and well informed on lobster issues and expressed a genuine desire to help solve problems facing the lobster industry and improve the economic well-being of our coastal communities. Overall, both Patrice and David thought the meeting went quite well.

Patrice and David spoke to Governor LePage about the ASFMC seat that will become available in January. The MLA is nominating Steve Train of Long Island for that position.

Board members reported on the July meetings held by NMFS along the coast to discuss vertical line reductions. Not many lobstermen showed up other than at the Ellsworth meeting. Patrice asked directors what suggestions they would like the MLA to include in its comments on the NMFS scoping document. She noted that the model that MLA is contributing to with Woods Hole and the New England Aquarium on the risk of whales becoming entangled in lobster gear would not be available until late September. The gear description report prepared by MLA is in final review now and will be released in August.

The directors discussed a variety of issues related to preparing comments on the scoping document. The MLA will stress the need for any new rules to thoroughly analyze economic impacts, safety concerns, operational feasibility, provide flexibility to harvesters, and provide measurable benefit to whales.

With regard to gear marking, the directors were open to the idea of additional gear marking on a regional basis. They warned that no new lines should be drawn to accommodate these rules. Ideas for further investigation include adding a colored mark for the state of Maine and for regions within Maine and distinguishing inshore versus offshore gear through a simple removal mark such as a wire tie. Increasing the frequency of marking was considered, but would depend on the complexity of the marking requirements. Suggestions centered around one mark every 25 fathoms, or one mark for the top 1/3 of the line and one mark for the bottom 1/3 of the line.

Reporting requirements for the new whale rules were discussed. This continues to be an unpopular idea among many. The directors debated whether or not reporting should be mandatory or voluntary. Many believed that mandatory reporting would not produce accurate data. There was discussion of voluntary reporting in state waters and mandatory in federal waters, but there was no consensus on this issue.

There was considerable discussion among the directors about using this round of whale regulations to reconsider the exemption line. Patrice made a strong case that if the MLA moves forward with this approach, Maine could lose. After much debate, the consensus was to ask MLA staff to look into this approach and to build an argument to move the exemption line to the state waters line. A tradeoff would need to be developed so that this would not result in adding risk (ie rope) to this area. The board supported investigating the concept of limiting the length of float rope between traps inside the exemption line and other measures such as going from pairs to triples. This must be run by MLA’s lawyers for an opinion, and revisited by the board before any decisions are made.

There was discussion of regulating gear configurations such as surface systems, but there was no support for this approach among MLA directors. MLA will explore a strategy to reduce risk in the areas with the highest co-occurrence and will explore all options available to the industry to reduce risk. The MLA wants to avoid seeing NMFS propose a rule with limited options and flexibility for the industry. The MLA will continue to reach out to the DMR as it develops a proposal for Maine.

The Take Reduction Team membership lacks an offshore fishermen’s perspective, despite the fact that whale regulations are likely to be most severe offshore. MLA directors nominated Jim Tripp and Marshall Spear who will be contacted and recommended to participate on the TRT if they are willing to serve. MLA directors will not meet in August, but may convene via conference call if input is needed on the whale regulations or other issues.

 

Lobster Advisory Council Meeting Summary

July 21, Hallowell, Maine: DMR’s newly appointed acting Commissioner, Pat Keliher, addressed the LAC and audience regarding the resignation of Norman Olsen and discussed the administration’s transition strategy. Keliher stated that is it not important why Olsen resigned, it only matters that the DMR continue to move forward with its work. He stated that there was not much divergence between the policies of Olsen and Governor.

LAC Chair Bob Baines welcomed bait dealers Jennie Bichrest of Purse Line Bait and Seth Anderson of O’Hara. Baines explained the LAC’s efforts to reduce the risk of introducing disease from the use of non-native baits and asked Bichrest and Anderson for feedback on establishing a reporting system for bait dealers to learn what types of baits are being used and where they are sourced from. Bichrest and Anderson responded that a reasonable reporting system could be implemented. The LAC will form a subcommittee which will include bait dealers, DMR staff and fish health scientists in order to take a comprehensive look at this issue and develop recommendations.

The LAC voted to move forward nominations to the Commissioner of four people to fill the vacancies on the Maine Lobster Promotion Council. The LAC nominated Jim Dow to fill the downeast region harvester seat, Peter Miller to fill the midcoast region harvester seat, John Petersdorf to fill the midcoast region dealer seat, and Patrice McCarron to fill the southern region public seat. These nominations must be endorsed by the DMR Commissioner.

Sarah Cotnoir updated the LAC on the recent series of whale meetings held by DMR and then the four scoping meetings held by National Marine Fisheries Service to brainstorm ideas to reduce the risk of vertical lines to endangered whales. The DMR will draft a plan for Maine and will schedule regional meetings to get more feedback from the industry before submitting its plan to NMFS in late September.

DMR presented updates on legislation and the island limited entry regulations. DMR will be reviewing the island limited entry regulations to create a baseline of license numbers in order to standardize the rulemaking process. Keliher informed the LAC that DMR would be monitoring the impacts of the Kennebec River dredge project slated for August. The LAC voted to allocate the discretionary portion of the Lobster Seed Fund money to support the state’s lobster research program. The DMR is moving forward with a regulation to tighten the owner operator law with comments due in July. The LAC did not schedule a meeting for August.

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