Meeting Roundup: December 2012

First published in the MLA Newsletter, December, 2012.

MLA Directors Meeting

November 7 – Belfast, ME: The MLA board reviewed the financials and preliminary budgets for 2013. Final budgets will be presented in December for approval by the board. Membership renewals are slightly behind schedule due to a one-month delay in the renewal mailing. MLA staff are calling members to urge them to renew. Support from MLA members is critical in order for MLA to continue to represent the lobster industry on pressing policy issues.

Marianne LaCroix, acting director of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council, provided an update on the Council’s work. The Council’s activities for the remainder of the year (through July 2013) will include the Boston Seafood Show, a reception at the Asian Seafood Show and a presence at Brussels Seafood Exposition. The Council solicited proposals from several consulting firms to create a strong brand strategy to better position Maine lobster in the market. The Council’s Board is still reviewing the proposals. The Council is closely monitoring the Lobster Advisory Council’s (LAC) proposal to the Legislature to establish a new marketing entity. Bob Baines clarified that the LAC’s intention is to not to refund the existing MLPC, but to dissolve the MLPC and create a new marketing entity with new funding. Members of the existing staff and board may or may not be involved with the new marketing entity. The MLA Board discussed including a regular update from the MLPC in the MLA Newsletter to keep the industry better informed on the Council’s activities.

In response to the crisis surrounding low boat prices this year, the LAC formed a subcommittee to discuss what, if anything, the industry could do to improve lobster price. Bob Baines explained that the subcommittee has generated a list of ideas that have come from the industry, but there has not been a consensus on how to move forward. Ideas have focused on tools that would help alleviate a glut in the market, or establishing a committee authorized to take action if necessary. This would require clear definition of the problem and those circumstances that would prompt action.

The MLA Board also discussed the need to promote “best practices” among harvesters to ensure that the supply of lobster consists of the best quality in order to maximize price. A suggestion was made to adapt the model of voluntary dockside safety exams to best harvesting practices. Vessels could volunteer for an audit to identify ways to improve handling, and ultimately, the quality of their lobster.

There was grave concern among MLA Board members that the industry will be in the same poor price situation next year, but there is really no willingness among industry members to make changes. The MLA board does not support implementing changes that are not supported by lobstermen. The Board believes that the industry should consider action on multiple fronts: 1) move forward on enhanced marketing to build demand, 2) implement best harvesting practices and 3) consider management approaches to avoid market gluts.

The recent election produced significant changes among elected officials in Augusta and the next Legislature will have a democratic House and Senate. The MLA will closely monitor new leadership appointments and will plan to meet with the new Senate President and Speaker of the House. The MLA will weigh in on assignments to the Marine Resources Committee and appointment to the ASMFC.

There has been a lot of activity on the policy front. MLA is preparing written comments on wind energy, marine mammal stock assessments and menhaden. While changes to the menhaden plan through ASFMC could lead to reductions in menhaden landings, the herring quota in 2013 will be increased as a result of a recent benchmark stock assessment.

The next MLA meeting is scheduled for December 4th at Darby’s in Belfast.

 

Lobster Advisory Council

November 15 – Hallowell, ME: The meeting began with a discussion of the Subcommittee on Profitability and Quality’s work. LAC Chair Bob Baines stated that while the subcommittee does not believe that the industry is ready to embrace major change, a series of ideas have been presented to DMR. The DMR will consider advancing some of the concepts identified by the industry. One is a system to establish days out of the fishery to prevent the glut of low-quality lobsters experienced in 2012. A major challenge will be determine a trigger mechanism for a days out system. DMR Commissioner Pat Keliher explained that he has no authority to adjust the lobster season due to pricing or market concerns but does have the authority and the responsibility to manage the fishery for conservation purposes. Shrink in shipments this summer ranged from 20 to 30%. Adjusting management of the fishery in order to avoid high shrinkage could potentially constitute a conservation measure. DMR is currently working with the Attorney General’s office to explore this option.

Many LAC members expressed interest in taking steps to improve lobster quality, such as looking at potential changes during the time of the season when the entire state is fully fishing. However, Pete McAleney of New Meadows Lobster, the western Maine dealer representative, cautioned that market implications should be fully considered before any changes are made to the management system.

DMR Deputy Commissioner Meredith Mendelson provided an update on the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s licensing study. GMRI’s submitted a draft report on November 2 and met with DMR on November 5. DMR has sent a letter to GMRI requesting additional explanation and detail to justify the report’s conclusions. DMR expects the final report after Thanksgiving; the final report will be available to the public. The report’s findings will be discussed at the December LAC meeting. Commissioner Keliher will meet with industry independently of the Zone Council process to discuss some of the larger concepts related to issues of licensing and harvester reforms to gain industry feedback prior to crafting legislation.

The LAC introduced Marianne Lacroix as acting director of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council. Lacroix has been the marketing director of the MLPC for six years. The MLPC is in a transition stage as the bill for marketing is prepared for the 2013 legislative session. The MLPC is half-way through its fiscal year and all of the programming has been set.

DMR policy director Deirdre Gilbert gave an update on the marketing bill. The draft legislation features considerable changes to the existing statute including the composition of the board of directors, accountability to the industry, and funding. Governor Paul LePage has seen the draft legislation and supports it. He still wants to see an entity designed to market all Maine seafood, but understands the reason and process behind starting with lobster.

Marine Patrol Colonel Joe Fessenden said that the new vendor for trap tags is Cambridge Seal, which guarantees three-week delivery of tags. None of the four companies that responded to the DMR’s request for proposals were from Maine. Fessenden encouraged lobstermen to register for their licenses online. DMR has seen online renewals double in the past year, saving DMR about $50,000 annually. Patrol is currently looking for bids from local boat builders to build a new Marine Patrol boat for the Mount Desert Island area. The elver lottery for six available licenses began on November 15. Funds from the lottery will be dedicated to the eel management fund. MPO has five new officers in the pipeline, with two coming out of the Police Academy soon.

The meeting concluded with a brief update on the status of the shrimp fishery. Commissioner Keliher said that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Northern Shrimp Section met in mid-November. Shrimp trappers have been guaranteed 13% of the quota. Maine advocated for state-by-state quota allocations and gear type allocations, but Massachusetts and New Hampshire disagreed. The season and the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) will be set at a December 3 ASMFC Northern Shrimp Section meeting. The Section is looking at a TAC between 500 and 800 metric tons for 2013, down considerably from the 2012 TAC of 2,200 metric tons.