Lobster licensing topic of DMR meetings

First published in Landings, September, 2015.

Ever since the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) released “An Independent Evaluation of the Maine Limited Entry System for Lobster and Crab,” a report prepared by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) in December, 2012, lobstermen, state legislators and DMR staff have stepped up efforts to wrestle with how to improve the current licensing system. The issues noted in that report were the amount of latent effort existing in the fishery (those with licenses who could set more traps than they currently do), the extremely long periods of time for those waiting to obtain a license in most lobster zones, and the lack of a plan for a possible future decline in lobster landings.

DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher met with lobstermen throughout the coast in a series of meetings during the winters of 2013 and 2014 to discuss the status of the fishery and to learn from lobstermen their thoughts concerning the future.

This issue has been simmering for about ten years, with many failed attempts within the Legislature to grapple with the issue of latent effort and long waiting lists. The bills submitted over the years have sought to allow various forms of license transfer or create exemptions to the lobster limited entry program. However, a few years ago the Legislature gave the zones authority to base exit ratios on the number of licenses or tags leaving that zone, rather than using just tags as a control. In response, zones A and B have changed their exit ratios from tags to licenses and Zone E is considering a similar change. The result, at least in Zone A, has been many people moving off the waiting list.

During the most recent legislative session, seven different bills were submitted to the Joint Committee on Marine Resources seeking changes to the lobster licensing system. While none of these bills were passed, the Committee has stated that it strongly supports reforming the lobster licensing system and is interested in hearing from the industry how best to do it.

In September, Keliher will once again meet with lobstermen to talk about ways to amend the current licensing system. At these meetings, the Commissioner and staff will give an update on the current status of the lobster fishery, discuss general concepts for change, and review possible future steps. “These meetings are a chance for industry not only to hear from the department but to have their voice heard on issues that directly impact them,” said Keliher.