Today the Maine Senate voted 28-7 to defeat L.D. 1549, “An Act To Provide an Exemption for Incidentally Caught Lobsters.” The Bill, which I wrote about last week, is the latest in a series of legislative actions attempting to help save Maine’s embattled groundfishing fleet by allowing groundfishers to land lobster incidentally caught in their trawl nets.
Maine is the only state that does not allow the landing of lobster bycatch, and Maine groundfishers who land lobster bycatch in states where the practice is legal face up to a $50,000 fine from the State of Maine. Supporters of the Bill argue that removing the possibility of a fine would help keep groundfishing boats in Maine. The Bill’s sponsor, Senator Anne Haskell, has gone so far as to say Maine risks losing its groundfishing industry if L.D. 1549 is not passed.
Earlier this session Haskell introduced L.D. 1097, a bill that would have made it legal to land incidentally caught lobsters in Portland, Maine. That bill, although having the support of Governor Paul LePage, Portland Mayor Michael Brennan and the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR), was unanimously voted down by the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Marine Resources in late April. L.D. 1549 is seen by its proponents as a compromise approach.
Although endorsed by a close vote in the Marine Resources Committee last week, L.D. 1549 was strongly opposed by the Maine Lobstermen’s Union and other opponents of any action that would loosen regulations and open up the possibility of increased dragging for lobster.