It’s difficult to become a lobsterman in Maine. The days when you could head out in your boat, haul a few traps and come back to the dock by noon are long gone. Maine residents who wish to lobster must complete a 1,000-hour apprenticeship program, apply for a commercial license, then put their name on a list for the specific area, or zone, in which they wish to fish. Each zone has specific rules for how many new lobstermen can fish in that zone in the coming year, rules that for some result in long periods of time on the waiting list.
But what if you are already a lobsterman and simply want to fish in a different zone? Before April of this year, your name would go on the waiting list for the zone you want to move to along with those hopeful newcomers to the fishery. Since passage in April of LD 1503 by the Legislature, however, the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) must maintain a separate waiting list for those commercial lobstermen who wish to change zones. The problem then becomes, what is a fair way to allow those lobstermen into zones which have existing waiting lists?
“The Department committed to getting input from the seven Lobster Zone Councils regarding how this system should be created and administered,” explained Sarah Cotnoir, resource management coordinator within DMR. At each of the zone council meetings held during September, Cotnoir posed two questions to council members: how should a transfer into a particular zone occur and should license holders have to meet any particular criteria to be eligible for transfer? Council members discussed two different approaches for creating a fair system.
The first is to create a single list of all lobstermen who want to transfer to a different zone. Each April, when DMR is reviewing entry into the zones, staff would go through the list and determine if there were any matches – for example, a Zone F lobsterman who wants to fish in Zone G and a Zone G lobsterman
who wants to fish in Zone F. Under this system, there would be no net increase in the number of lobstermen in any zone. However, if there aren’t equal matches among the zones, some lobstermen could be left waiting until a match is found.
The other approach would allow a transfer to take place using a formula based on the number of new lobstermen allowed into a zone. That number would vary depending on the waiting list of each zone. If, for example, five new lobstermen enter a given zone, then one transfer lobsterman could also enter that zone. “This system would ensure some movement on the transfer list,” said Cotnoir. Lobstermen are not known for being of one mind on any given topic. And there are 80 zone council members serving on the seven zones from Eastport to Kittery. So it’s no surprise that there was no consensus of opinion among the zones after their meetings in September. “There weren’t too many other ideas on how this could work,” Cotnoir said. “The next opportunity to provide input on creating this system will be at the
meetings of those zone councils that meet in December.” Next spring, DMR will adopt final regulations to govern how transfers are administered. Prior to that, public hearings will be held at which lobstermen can make additional comments.