Good-bye 2020: An End of the Year Wrap-up from DMR

As 2020 slowly draws to a close, I’d like to share with you one last monthly update on the work of Maine DMR before we close the books on a year of challenges.

Pat Keliher is the Commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources. DMR photo.

Policy and Management Bureau

The New England Fishery Management Council met on December 1-3 via webinar. Much of the current work of the Council is focused on identifying specifications for fishing year 2021, including catch limits for the federal scallop, whiting, and spiny dogfish fisheries. The Council did take final action on groundfish catch limits for FY2021 as a part of Framework 61. The Council will continue work on Framework 61 in January when it is slated to take final action on a redfish universal sector exemption.
DMR has been auditing the data collected through the CARES Act application process. As we said in a recent email to industry, we received more than 2700 applications and appeals. We have confirmed the eligibility of the majority of applicants and we anticipate that ASMFC will mail checks to this group this week. The arrival of the checks will depend on how the Christmas season impacts the Postal Service. We are also working to resolve errors and other issues that have delayed processing of payments for the remaining 25% of applications. The remaining eligible applications will be advanced to ASMFC as soon as those situations have been resolved. We appreciate everyone’s patience as we work to ensure the accuracy of the applications. DMR will send updates when we know more about the timing of the second round of payments. Calls to check on payments only will slow the process so again, be patient and we will send periodic updates. 
Additional coronavirus relief has been approved by Congress however it is much too early to know how NOAA will distribute relief money to the States. We will update the industries on this funding in early 2021.
DMR announced the launch of the Maine Seafood branding and promotion initiative on December 9th and garnered positive press from local and national press as well as trade publications. There will be much more to come as we continue to develop the website, seafoodfrommaine.com, and implement strategies to build consumer awareness and demand for Maine Seafood by helping people learn about, find and prepare the best seafood on the planet.
DMR recently announced the latest winners of the state’s scallop license lottery. Ten individuals won eligibility to apply for a drag license and four were awarded a chance to apply for a dive license. Each has been notified and is responsible for applying for a license within 30 days of notification. The new licenses are the result of a limited entry system established by the legislature and implemented through regulation in June 2018.
Recently the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission made some adjustments in its striped bass Fishery Management Plan (FMP) that dealt with the use of circle hooks. Circle hooks have been required when fishing with bait for striped bass and bluefish in Maine for seven years. We added an exemption many years ago that allowed worms to be used on a J hook associated with a tube and worm rig. Maine continued to ask for this exemption, but it was caught up in a much larger exemption being pushed by Massachusetts that would have had impacts to the resource. At the end of the day the tube and warm exemption was removed from the FMP. Not only is this a problematic issue for many charter boat captains, it could impact sales of marine worms dug in Maine.  We will continue to work on this issue to make sure this proven conservation tool doesn’t have unintended consequences with the worm industry.
As you are likely aware Governor Mills has supported an offshore wind initiative for the Gulf of Maine that involves the state applying for a research lease. We understand the concern and angst from such a discussion and we also recognize that the timing of feedback around siting and the layout of a 12-turbine research lease will be challenging in the face of Covid-19 and the need for social distancing. We will do our very best to work with you and our hope is that we will see some positive news regarding Covid-19 which will allow for some small, socially-distanced meetings after the first of the year.  The Governor’s Energy Office is the lead on this project, and I would encourage you to visit their website for information. DMR will provide updated information on our website as well and will send email notices about any future meetings.  DMR’s role in this effort is to ensure the best available science and data is being used.  We will also be developing a set of research priories to help the state better understand the impacts to both the resource and to industries that need to access the areas that will be the focus of a research lease.

Science Bureau

Lobstermen young and old faced a long, tough year with their traditional resilience. MLA photo of Cameron fishing out of Perkins Cove.

The Fall 2020 Inshore Trawl Survey successfully wrapped up on October 23, 2020. The survey was able to complete 91 out of the 120 scheduled tows. Data from the survey has been entered in our database. Updated data and trends can be viewed on the data portal at our online Trawl Survey Portal.
The final meeting of the DMR Lobster Research Collaborative (LRC) was held virtually on November 9. The meeting featured two-year research project updates, a summary of the 2020 Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission stock assessment report, and a group discussion to rank future lobster research priorities. “Foster and provide funding mechanisms for lobstermen-scientists research projects” and “Develop collaborations with industry to design information products, future priorities, and strategies for the fishery” were selected as the top research priorities. DMR will provide a summary of the LRC research projects and the full results of the priority voting in early 2021.
Maine DMR secured a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation award for $1,548,528 for the Increasing Access to Fish Habitat and Aquatic Connectivity through Stream Restoration (ME) project on the Sabattus River.  This project will remove two dams on the Sabattus River in Lisbon Maine, opening up 25 miles of habitat for sea-run fish, and facilitate a multi-million dollar stream cleanup of mercury and linoleum in coordination with DEP.   Once fully restored, the Sabattus River should support a commercial alewife fishery with over 1 million fish annually returning.
Maine DMR has joined forces with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, the Center for Coastal Studies, the New Hampshire Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the New England Aquarium, Arizona State University, the University of Maine, the Atlantic Shark Institute, the NOAA Fisheries Apex Predators Program, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada in a collaborative effort to study white sharks within the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. The research will involve hundreds of acoustic receivers throughout the northeast to detect white shark movements from Rhode Island to Canada. Research will also be conducted on multiple life stages using new and innovative tagging technologies, such as acoustic transmitters, data loggers, and satellite-linked tags, as well as tissue analysis.

Marine Patrol Bureau

The Bureau of Marine Patrol recently received an FDA grant award of nearly $15,000 to cover law enforcement certification training costs. This funding provides vital support for the tuition costs associated with required Maine Criminal Justice Academy training as well as required annual Officer training. Employment background investigations for three potential new hires are on-going and expected to be completed before the new year.
MMP currently has an open application process to begin filling eight vacant officer positions along the State’s vast coastline. Most of our vacant positions are in the Eastern Maine region and it is critically important to both our service model and our operational readiness that we prioritize the hiring and training of new officers. If you know of any interested candidates, they can review employment information on our website here.   
A new 42’ patrol vessel is currently in production at Farrin’s Boat Shop in Walpole and we hope to commission the new platform into service this coming Spring. The new 42’ Calvin Beal will be stationed in Boothbay Harbor and replace the recently decommissioned P/V Monitor. MMP has also ordered two new small vessel assets and anticipate their arrival at some point next Summer.
As if 2020 wasn’t enough of a challenge, we sadly responded to an unusually high number of maritime fatalities this year. I want to once again express my deepest condolences to the friends and families who lost loved ones at sea this year.
This has been a long, tough year. Let’s hope 2021 brings some positive change for us all.  Wishing you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday and a Happy New Year.

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