June is an exciting time for the Maine lobster fishery. Spring has finally brought warmth and life back to the great outdoors, the snow is a distant memory, everyone is anxious for those lazy days of summer and, of course, shedder season! There is such a sense of excitement for what lies ahead as you ready those last few traps or buoys, paint those endlines, launch your boat, and set traps out for this season.
The recent five-year scare that reminded us all of the sometimes bitter reality and vulnerability of being both self-employed and dependent on Mother Nature for a living has given way to a more pleasant situation, full of the independence and success this fishery affords us. The fear that gripped so many when the recession hit in 2008 and was enhanced by the difficult and memorable 2012 season is finally a dim memory. Through it all, Maine’s lobstermen survived those trying days through hard work, stubbornness and determination.
And it looks like that pain has paid off. The seemingly dismal combination of weak lobster prices and high volume resulted in a frenzy of growth in the industry. Maine has seen tremendous private investment and growth in lobster holding and processing capacity. These were sound investments as access to large volumes of lobster at affordable prices helped Maine’s dealer and processor network greatly expand demand and build new markets for Maine lobster.
The pieces of the puzzle have been on the table all along but change does not come easy in the lobster industry. It took the dramatic spike in landings to serve as a catalyst for change to happen.
While Maine’s dealers and processors were busy growing infrastructure and demand for Maine lobster, industry leaders from the Lobster Advisory Council and Maine Lobstermen’s Association were shoring up the harvesters’ future through establishment of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative (MLMC). Lobstermen worked with the Legislature to reinvent and reinvest in the marketing arm of Maine’s lobster industry. And today, targeted strategic marketing is finally happening.
You can sense the excitement and enthusiasm about Maine lobster right now. We have professionals, namely international marketing firm Weber Shandwick, charging ahead. The MLMC has identified tremendous market potential to grow the sales of Maine lobster in the restaurants of the urban northeast. In addition, there is a growing appetite for Maine lobster in China and other Asian countries that our dealers and processors are successfully capitalizing on. We have a bright future for sure.
Fortunately, Maine lobstermen continue to be excellent stewards of the resource, holding a shared vision of the fishery’s future. Every short lobster, oversize lobster, egg-bearing female and V-notch lobster that you return to the sea represents an investment in that future.
Consumers want to know where their food comes from and they particularly want to know that those who harvest it care about the resource and the environment. And we do.
This industry will always have its ups and downs. Right now, Maine’s lobster stocks remain sound, providing a remarkable fishery to Maine’s commercial lobstermen. Lobsters continue to provide a respectable living for thousands of families along the coast, who then support all sorts of other businesses in their communities. I know of many lobstermen who have been able to invest in new boats, new traps, new trucks and other gear this year. These investments keep both the lobster industry and our communities afloat.
Being a fisherman will never be a stress-free job. But for all the stress and headaches it brings, remember all that you reap from it and be thankful. 2015 looks like it’s going to be a great year!
As always, stay safe on the water.
MLA Directors Meeting
MLA Directors met on May 4 in Belfast. Greg Sirpis, Chairman of Operation Game Thief (OGT), discussed OGT’s mission and accomplishments. OGT was established in 1989 as a tip line for citizens to report hunting and fishing violations. They successfully worked with Department of Inland Fisheries and the Wildlife Warden Service to make cases against wildlife poachers. Callers who report violations can remain anonymous and do not have to testify in court. Many receive rewards of up to $1,000 for information that leads to an arrest.
Maine Wardens Simmons and Cross talked about how much it has helped the Maine Warden Service in making important cases. Joe Fessenden talked about getting OGT started at Maine Marine Patrol and how good tips and information will improve Marine Patrol’s enforcement.
OGT is now available to help Maine Marine Patrol make cases against commercial and recreational saltwater fishing violations. To make a report to the OGT tip line, call 1-800-253-7887 (1-800-ALERT-US) or visit the OGT website for more information: www.maineogt.org.
Joe Fessenden raised the issue of the challenge facing Marine Patrol in making cases against violators, particularly in offshore waters. He suggested the MLA consider how VMS might aid in stopping violators. MLA Directors voiced frustration that some lobstermen get away with breaking the law. They would like to see effective enforcement against those who fish their 80 replacement tags as part of their trap limit, those who fish hundreds of traps over the limit, and fish sunken trawls. Many felt that VMS could help with this, but it also could be abused. Others thought a better solution is to stiffen penalties – primarily through licenses suspension so that it would be too risky to break the law.
Bob Baines engaged the Directors in a discussion over options for the MLA vessel insurance program. MLA’s executive committee will follow-up.
Patrice provided an update on the status of lobster bills in the Legislature. The Marine Resources Committee spent a lot of time debating how to tackle reform of the lobster licensing system. They are concerned about the long waiting list and latent effort. The Committee intends to take action on these issues next session, based on legislation to be submitted by Maine DMR following a round of Commissioner’s meetings with the lobster industry in August and September.
The whale rules go into effect on June 1; there is an article and full summary in the May edition of Landings. The MLA submitted comments on a variety of federal and interstate management actions including the ASMFC shrimp plan, NEFMC habitat amendment, NOAA proposal to expand right whale critical habitat, NOAA proposal to amend whale rules and NOAA draft right whale stock assessment.
In miscellaneous news, Patrice and David met in May with Vinalhaven lobstermen to discuss the whale rules and other issues. The NOAA vessel Ferdinand Hassler is finishing its survey off the York County coast in May. MLA staff are preparing for the membership renewal and member drive this summer.
Marine Mammal Commission Annual Meeting
MLA’s Director, Patrice McCarron, traveled to South Carolina to speak on a panel at the Marine Mammal Commission’s Annual meeting. McCarron’s presentation focused on the diversity of Maine’s lobster fishery and the complexity of finding solutions to the entanglement issue. She emphasized that since so little is known about how and where whales interact with and become entangled in fishing gear, it is extremely difficult to find effective solutions. The Marine Mammal Commission is an independent agency of the U.S. Government, established under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to provide oversight of the marine mammal conservation policies and programs being carried out by federal regulatory agencies.
Lobster Advisory Council
The Lobster Advisory Council (LAC) met on May 12. More than half the members of the Marine Resources Committee attended as well, including the two chairs, and four students from the Eastern Maine Skippers program.
In its first order of business, the LAC elected Josh Miller of Tenants Harbor as Chair and Jeff Putnam of Chebeague as Vice-Chair. Bob Baines was thanked for his nine years of service as LAC Chair.
Deirdre Gilbert updated the LAC on the status of legislation affecting lobstermen: three bills have passed (LD 98 increasing Swans Island trap limit; LD 1038 clarifying DMR’s emergency rulemaking authority to comply with federal and interstate management plans; LD 1233 which includes a permanent license revocation for scrubbing lobsters); two bills were carried over (LD 427 to mitigate plastic pollution and LD 493 to establish an Ocean Acidification Council); five bills were killed (LD 490 to extend lobstering hours, LD 491 to allow 65 year olds a reduced fee license, LD 492 to expand eligibility for veterans, LD 563 to address latent effort, LD 1016 to allow retired marine patrol officers two fishing licenses); and two bills have a divided report (LD 896 to allow family transfer of lobster licenses and LD 1026 to keep email addresses confidential).
Commissioner Keliher informed the LAC that the DMR and the Governor are committed to dealing with issues of latency of entry into the lobster fishery. He will hold at least 10 meetings during August and September to talk to lobstermen about these issues. DMR will submit legislation to address entry issues in late fall for debate during the second Legislative session.
Deirdre Gilbert presented a proposed timeline for the development of the Lobster Fishery Management Plan (FMP) and draft goals and objectives for discussion. The goals and objectives are purposely broad, to give the industry a lot of discretion in how the plan is developed and implemented. DMR stressed that this is an evolving “guidance document” which has no authority on its own. The LAC talked about the FMP at length. Members were concerned about how to keep the industry fully engaged in the process and specifically about the proposal to include economic considerations as a goal of the plan. The FMP document will be taken to the zone councils in May and June, and come back to the LAC for further input in September. The LAC plans to be very involved in developing recommendations to achieve the plan’s goals and objectives.
Commissioner Keliher asked the LAC for feedback on the concept of creating on offshore lobster zone. He stated that the idea has been raised with the DMR on several occasions over the past few years. There are several ways to approach it: creating an offshore zone outside of 12 miles; requiring lobstermen to declare a home zone where majority of gear would be fished; allow license stacking offshore; require VMS in order to enforce an offshore zone; and others. At this point, Commissioner Keliher said, it is only a collection of ideas. The LAC did not oppose or support the idea, but stated that it was worth further exploration and should be discussed at the next round of zone council meetings.
Commissioner Keliher also asked for feedback on the concept of requiring double tagging in all zones of all gear fished outside of a declared home zone. The state continues to have complaints from Zone E, B and C on excessive amounts of gear from other zones being fished over the line. Currently, some areas have double tagging while others do not. The LAC urged the Commissioner to explore the possibility of double tagging to apply state-wide in order to aid enforcement and have a fair and consistent standard across all lobster zones. DMR will add this to the agenda for the next round of zone council meetings to solicit more feedback.
Kathleen Reardon presented new data showing that bio panels are not working as well as intended. The ferrous hog rings used to secure bio panels in lobster traps are not degrading when the traps are lost and remain underwater. It turns out that they need air to weaken, so many lobster traps continue to fish long after they are lost. Several LAC members indicated that the soft wood lathes used by some as bio panels also last for a very long time. Scientists are looking at other techniques to create bio panels that would allow bycatch to escape in a reasonable amount of time if gear is lost.
The LAC nominated two individuals, Albert Carver and Annie Tselikis, to fill an opening for a dealer/processor seat on the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative (MLMC) Board because Emily Lane of Calendar Islands Lobster has termed out. The nominations will go to the Commissioner who makes the final decision. Matt Jacobson, Director of the MLMC, provided an update on recent activities. He noted that the MLMC has hired the advertising firm Weber Shandwick. The first priority was to gather market research which will serve to focus MLMC’s marketing efforts over the next few years. Marketing will focus on the restaurant sector because 85% of all seafood is eaten in restaurants. Weber Shandwick will focus on promoting Maine new shell lobster to generate interest when supply is at its peak; this effort will take place primarily on the East Coast since research shows that Maine lobster appears on only 4% of East Coast menus. The update was well received by the LAC, which thanked Jacobson for the tremendous progress that has been made.
Carl Wilson and Kathleen Reardon provided a science update. Kathleen attended the zone council meetings this winter to keep the industry informed on the status of the DMR’s lobster monitoring programs. The lobster stock assessment will be peer reviewed in June, and available in August. Carl has been promoted to head of the DMR’s Science Bureau, and DMR is in the process of hiring a new lead lobster biologist.
Colonel Cornish provided an enforcement update. In March, Rene Cloutier was promoted to Major and now serves as second-in-command to Colonel Cornish, who was promoted to Colonel in January, 2015. Dan White, who has served as a Sergeant in the Maine Marine Patrol since 2011, has been promoted to Lieutenant of Division I. He replaces Major Cloutier. Marine Patrol has hired 12 new people over the past two years.
Marine Patrol is shifting resources towards the east, since ¾ of all cases now occur in Division II. DMR is looking at the possibility of acquiring a small 32-foot workboat for enforcement in the Stonington area. 2015 Lobster trap tags must be in traps by June 1.
Deputy Commissioner Mendelson informed the LAC of an upcoming public hearing on the proposed Beals Harbor/Pig Island Gut Channel dredging project.. She stated that the water quality application for the Searsport dredging project is expected to be complete soon; DMR will hold a public hearing once that happens.
Protected Resources Rulemaking (DMR, Chapter 75)
The Maine Department of Marine Resources has proposed regulatory changes to comply with the federal vertical line regulations (otherwise known as the “whale rules”) which go into effect on June 1.. The new whale rules require a minimum number of lobster traps per trawl based on the different lobster zones and distance from shore to reduce the number of buoy lines in the water column. The various changes apply to areas of Maine’s Pocket Waters, inside the Maine Sliver Area and federal waters. The DMR is adopting additional gear marking, a new 6-mile line, minimum trawl lengths and some island buffers in regulation for compliance and consistency with the federal whale rules.
New England Council completes scoping on Herring Plan
The New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC) recently completed a public scoping process to get input from the public on Amendment 8 to the Herring Plan. The purpose of this amendment is to address the biological needs of the Atlantic herring resource as well as the ecological importance of Atlantic herring to the region in a manner that is consistent with the requirements and intent of the federal law. The Council has directed that the amendment consider the importance of Atlantic herring as a forage species, so the amendment will consider a wide range of alternatives for how much of the herring resource should be allocated to the commercial fishery. After information is gathered through the Amendment 8 scoping process, the amendment’s goals and objectives and a range of alternatives will be developed and public meetings scheduled in late 2015. An Environmental Impact Statement will be developed and public feedback solicited in 2016; the final plan could be effective for the 2017 fishing year.
ASMFC Spring Meeting Roundup
Herring Section — Days Out
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) Atlantic Herring Section set the “days out” effort control measures for the 2015 Area 1A Trimester 2 (June – September). From June 1 through July 5, vessels may land herring five days a week on Monday through Friday. From July 6 through September 30, vessels may land seven days a week until further notice.
By starting with five landings days and then adjusting to seven days per week during Trimester 2, the quota is projected to be caught close to the end of that trimester. Landings will be monitored closely and the fishery will be closed when the trimester’s quota is projected to be reached.
In 2015, Area 1A has a 30,290 metric ton (mt) annual catch limit after adjusting for a carryover from 2013, 295 mt fixed gear set-aside, and 3% research set-aside. The Section allocated 72.8%of the quota to Trimester 2. The Atlantic Herring Section is scheduled to reconvene via conference calls to review the fishing effort and adjust landing days as necessary on on Monday, June 29 at 10 a.m.and Thursday, July 30. To join the call, dial 888.394.8197 and enter passcode 499811.
Atlantic Herring Section
The ASMFC’s Atlantic Herring Section has approved Draft Amendment 3 to the Interstate Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for public comment. Draft Amendment 3 was initiated to strengthen spawning protections in Area 1A (inshore Gulf of Maine) and address concerns raised by the commercial Atlantic herring industry.
The Draft Amendment proposes 1) changing the spawning monitoring program; 2) removing the fixed gear set‐aside rollover provision, and 3) requiring a vessel’s fish hold to be emptied before leaving on a fishing trip. The empty fish hold provision is also being addressed by the NEFMC under Framework Adjustment 4.
The Commission’s Plan Development Team conducted a review of the current spawning monitoring program and recommended new tools and adjustments to improve protection for spawning fish. The review revealed spawning events occur at different times each year and typically last six weeks. Options include a new forecast system to allow fisheries biologists to pool samples of herring from Maine and Massachusetts and project the date of peak spawning. Options for adjusting the default closure start dates are based on analysis of spawning data from the past decade, and provide flexibility in the proportion of spawning fish protected. The Draft Amendment proposes merging the Western Maine (WM) and Massachusetts‐New Hampshire (MA‐NH) spawning areas because there have been no significant differences in the starting dates of spawning events. Lastly, an option proposes to extend the closure period in WM‐MA‐NH to six weeks reflecting the current characteristics of the rebuilt herring population,.
At the request of the fishing industry, the Draft Amendment also includes options to remove the fixed gear set‐aside provision and establish a requirement for empty fish holds. Currently, 295 mt is set‐aside for the fixed gear fishery in Area 1A until November 1, after which the remaining set‐aside is made available to all Area 1A gear types. Maine fixed gear fishermen have requested access to the set‐aside until the overall total allowable landings limit has been harvested. Draft Amendment 3 also includes a proposal to establish a requirement for fish holds to be empty of fish prior to trip departures. Industry members initiated the empty fish hold provision because it would prevent mixing of catch from multiple trips, which can improve catch and bycatch accounting. In addition, the provision could encourage less wasteful fishing practices by creating an incentive to catch amounts of herring as demanded by markets.
States will be conducting public hearings on the Draft Amendment this spring and summer. Fishermen and other interested groups are encouraged to provide input on the Draft Amendment either by attending state public hearings or providing written comment.
American Lobster Board
The American Lobster Management Board reviewed issues including the Draft Jonah Crab FMP, the Draft Addendum XXIV, and the progress of the Lobster Trap Transfer Database. The Draft Jonah Crab FMP, which proposes the first management measures for the species, was approved for public comment. The document sets goals and objectives, measures for permits including options for a lobster/crab permit and a crab only permit, spawning stock biomass protections, non‐trap limits, and data collection elements.
A press release will announce the availability of the document for public comment and public hearing dates and locations. A motion to establish a Jonah crab fishery control date immediately was passed; individuals entering the fishery after the control date may be treated differently than those participating prior to the control date. The Commission will work with NOAA fisheries to finalize the control date. The Jonah Crab Advisory Panel was established with seven members.
The ASMFC’s American Lobster Management Board has approved Addendum XXIV to Amendment 3 to the Interstate Lobster Fishery Management Plan. The Addendum aligns state and federal trap transfer programs for Lobster Conservation Management Areas 2, 3, and Outer Cape Cod regarding the conservation tax on trap allocations when whole fishing businesses are transferred, trap allocation transfer increments, and restrictions on trap allocation transfers among permit holders who are authorized to fish both state and federal waters (dual permit holders) within a single lobster management area.
Addendum XXIV removes the 10% conservation tax on full business transfers. Transfer tax on full business transfers was found not to be necessary to prevent activation of latent effort and that current regulations provide sufficient latent effort controls. Addendum XXIV also specifies traps shall be transferred in 10-trap increments in all areas that currently have a trap transferability program, unless specified otherwise. This change allows for fewer traps to be transferred at one time. This repeals restrictions on vessel size and trap allocation transfers and does not require a permit be retired if the permit holder has less than 50 traps.
Addendum XXIV allows dual permit holders to transfer allocation with dual permits holders from other states. If a dual permit holder chooses to purchase a federal trap allocation from a dual permit holder from another state, only the federal allocation will transfer. Therefore, the buyer must also purchase state allocation from a permit holder in their own state to align the federal and state allocations. If the state and federal allocations do not align, the most restrictive rule applies. The Addendum’s measures are effective immediately.
In response to a recommendation from the Fishing for Energy Workshop, the Board voted to recommend to the ISFMP Policy Board to convene the Gear Technology Working Group. The working group, in conjunct with industry, will assess the effectiveness of ghost panels. An update stated that the Lobster Trap Transfer Database will be ready for the August and September trap transfer window. The peer-reviewed Lobster Stock Assessment will be presented at the August meeting.
The Board also recommended to the ISFMP Policy Board to have the Commission send a letter to the NEFMC requesting a prohibition on all bottom-tending mobile gear in Closed Area II from July 15 to October 31. This provision aligns with the language in the groundfish and offshore lobster industry agreement as well as Addendum XX. The Commission previously sent comments to NEFMC identifying the importance of the large seasonal migration of lobster into and out of Closed Area II and the contribution these migrating lobster have on the overall health of the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank lobster stocks. During the summer and fall months, the abundance of large female and egg‐bearing lobsters is high (~35% of all egg‐bearing lobster biomass). The Board discussed a motion to initiate the process to develop an addendum to prohibit all mobile gear in Closed Area II, but this motion was tabled until the August meeting, which will be held after the NEFMC takes action on Closed Area II measures in June.
Atlantic Menhaden Board
The ASMFC’s Atlantic Menhaden Management Board approved a total allowable catch (TAC) for the 2015 and 2016 fishing seasons at 187,880 mt per year, a 10% increase from the 2014 TAC. The increase responds to the positive findings of the 2015 Atlantic menhaden benchmark assessment which indicates the resource is not overfished nor experiencing overfishing relative to the current biological reference points. The TAC will be made available to the states based on the state‐by‐state allocation established by Amendment 2.
The Board also committed to moving forward with the development of an amendment to establish ecological-based reference points that reflect Atlantic menhaden’s role as a forage species and changes to the current state‐by‐state allocation scheme.
Beals Harbor and Pig Island Gut
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has submitted a Congressionally-authorized dredge project for Beals Harbor. Approximately 100,000 cubic yards of silty clay material would be removed from an 18.5 acre subtidal area to a depth of -10 feet MLW. In addition, the USACE proposes a maintenance dredging project in Pig Island Gut for a 80-foot-wide by 6-foot-deep channel and anchorage, which would remove 9,000 cubic yards of subtidal material. Maine DMR is holding a public hearing to solicit feedback on the impacts of this proposed dredge project on the fishing industry on June 9 at 6 p.m. at the Searsport High School.
The proposed work will be performed by a private contractor, using a mechanical dredge and scow, under contract to the government. The dredge material will be put in a disposal site located east of Mark Island in Chandler Bay. The project is currently estimated to start in October, 2015, and be completed in March, 2016. The DMR held a public meeting in May to get feedback on the impacts of the proposed dredge on the fishing industry.
The USACE has applied for a state Water Quality Certification and Natural Resources Protection Act Permit to conduct the Searsport Harbor Navigation Improvement Project. The Project would maintain and deepen the existing entrance channel and turning basin from -35 feet to -40 feet MLLW. Also, the entrance channel would be widened from 500 feet at its narrowest point to 650 feet and a maneuvering area adjacent to State Pier’s east berth would be created. Dredged material would be disposed of at the identified Penobscot Bay Disposal Site.
For information on the proposed Searsport Dredge Project
Maine Department of Environmental Protection: www.maine.gov/dep/land/nrpa/projects/index.html
Army Corps of Engineers, Searsport: www.nae.usace.army.mil/Missions/ProjectsTopics/Searsport.aspx
Army Corps of Engineers, Maine projects: www.nae.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/Navigation/Maine.aspx
Who to Contact? http://mainelobstermen.org/news-events-reports/searsport-dredge-proposal/