“There are 1.2 million trap tags that are not in the water. We can’t say, ‘We can’t talk about it,’ if we know it’s a problem. Having the conversation now, when there’s no threat or need to change, is a much different conversation than it could be in the future.” -Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum
It’s called “latency,” and it occupied many discussions before large audiences in the ballrooms, between small groups in the hallways and over beers late at night at last week’s Maine Fishermen’s Forum. As we move forward with discussing how Maine’s fisheries will be managed, it’s really important that everyone understand what latency is and why many consider it the proverbial third-rail of lobster fishery politics.
Almost 2000 Maine lobster licenses are not being fished regularly or even at all. That means almost one-third of current licensees are not landing lobster in any significant numbers. Some worry this could be a real problem for long-term fishery sustainability. What if all those licenses started being fished and fished hard?
While the Maine lobster fishery is currently experiencing unprecedented abundance–2013’s landings were valued at more than $364, making it Maine’s most valuable fishery–there are serious concerns about the future. Changing environmental factors that may have lobsters on the move, combined with three straight years of declines in the annual Lobster Settlement Survey, make the future anything but certain.
Fisheries management throughout New England is focused on active fishing, but latent effort could have serious implications when it comes to rebuilding stocks and long term fishery sustainability. In the groundfish fishery, latency has been addressed in part through moving to a catch-share system, but, as was abundantly clear at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum, latency remains front-and-center in the lobster fishery and will no doubt be a hot-button topic as DMR holds a series of meetings on Maine’s most valuable fishery.