The Department believes that this bill is an appropriate step to take in helping to sustain the Maine groundfish industry for future generations. -Deputy Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) Commissioner Meredith Mendelson
In an 8 April public hearing, the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) Deputy Commissioner Meredith Mendelson voiced the Department’s support of a bill that would make it legal in Maine to sell incidentally caught lobsters. This represents a reversal of the Department’s position on this issue since the last time it came before state legislators. LD 1097, a bill submitted by Senator Anne Haskell (D-ME 9th District), would allow Maine groundfishermen to land lobsters caught in their nets in Maine. Currently, lobsters caught in Maine groundfishermen’s nets as bycatch must be returned to the sea…
…or landed legally in Massachusetts, where the groundfishing fleet is allowed to sell up to 500 lobsters per trip under both state and Federal law. For many, that’s the sticking point.
At present, the practice of Maine groundfishermen landing their lobster bycatch at Gloucester, Massachusetts is relatively common, and it is this fact that seems to be motivating DMR to support the bill this time around. The Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) remains opposed to the bill, which would only allow lobster bycatch to be landed in Portland so there could, according to proponents of the Bill, be a greater degree of oversight by DMR.
I wrote about this issue in a 13 April entry in which I quoted an MLA spokesperson as saying:
Allowing dragger caught lobster to be landed in Maine could damage our reputation for landing high quality, sustainably harvested lobster. The City of Portland and Portland Fish Exchange should be working to preserve their infrastructure with Maine’s record landings of sustainable, trap caught lobster.
Saving the infrastructure of a working waterfront in Maine is increasingly an issue being discussed everywhere from the wheelhouse to the state house. In particular, Maine’s groundfishing fleet is feeling the pressures of smaller and smaller quotas, based on stock assessments that have caused fisheries managers to cut way back on catch limits in many fisheries. Some believe LD 1097 will help Maine’s groundfishing industry.
Opponents of the Bill say allowing lobsters caught as bycatch in the groundfish fishery would weaken the perception of the Maine lobster fishery’s sustainability and have potentially detrimental conservation consequences, while not being enough to revitalize the groundfish fishery. On the other hand, groundfishermen say being able to land lobster bycatch in Maine would make a big difference and would bring some of them, their lobster bycatch, and the rest of their catch, back to Maine from Mass.
James Odlin, owner of Atlantic Trawlers, wrote an opinion piece in Sunday’s Lewiston Sun Journal in which he said he would return his three groundfishing boats to Maine if LD 1097 passes. He wrote:
Maine has a strong tie to the sea, one that dates back to our state’s founding. By allowing by-catch to be sold in the state, lawmakers would help to diversify our fishing economy, create new jobs and protect traditional businesses. There are fishing boats ready to come home to Maine. By allowing them to sell their by-catch under heavily controlled and monitored conditions, we can make Maine more competitive and keep one of our biggest working waterfronts working.