AUGUSTA – A highly anticipated report on the state Department of Marine Resources offers plenty of recommendations but few revelations.

In light of the abrupt resignation of Norman Olsen as Gov. Paul LePage’s marine resources commissioner in July, there was speculation that the independent audit would contain sharp criticism of the department or shed further light on the circumstances surrounding Olsen’s departure.

Ultimately, the 90-page document drafted by three out-of-state experts picked by Olsen cited several concerns that have been topics of discussion in Maine’s fishing industry in recent years:

Criticism of the department’s structure and effectiveness.

Skepticism about the sustainability of recent record-breaking lobster harvests.

Concern that the already cash-strapped department will have fewer resources in the near future.

Industry insiders apparently did not spend their weekend reading the report, which was released Friday.

Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, said she’s looking forward to reviewing it but “I have not yet received a copy.”

LePage’s press office issued a news release Friday afternoon containing a link to the report, which is on the DMR’s website.

Rep. Windol Weaver, R-York, House chairman of the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee, said Monday that he was just beginning to review the report.

Others contacted Monday for their thoughts on the report declined to comment because they hadn’t looked it over.

Despite the report’s low profile so far, Weaver predicted that it will be the focus of much of his committee’s work during the legislative session that starts in January.

“I guess it’s good advice and an outside evaluation that the department’s probably needed for many years,” he said, “so it gives us a good starting point.”

DOZENS OF RECOMMENDATIONS

The audit was done by David Wallace, who has owned seafood processing companies and fishing boats during his 45 years in the industry; W. “Pete” Jensen, whose career in natural resources management includes work with the National Marine Fisheries Service; and David Borden, who has been in fisheries management for 38 years, according to the report.

The review contains more than three dozen recommendations, ranging from staffing and fiscal matters to fishery management, lobster processing and aquaculture.

It says, “The department should be restructured and activities prioritized around a strong legislative policy requiring sustainable resource management based on management plans with clear objectives and goals.”

It also says that, based on interviews with dozens of department staffers and lawmakers, “one particular concern was that the continued increase in the harvest of lobsters that is largely unexplained may not be sustainable, but there were no efforts under way to constrain the harvest to an identified sustainable level.”

Maine lobster landings averaged about 20 million pounds a year from 1950 to 1990, according to the report. More than 94 million pounds were landed in 2010.

The number of lobster traps increased from 430,000 in 1950 to 2.6 million in 1996. Now there are more than 3 million traps used by 5,977 lobstermen, the report says.

INDUSTRY FACES CHANGES

Because it is not clear why the yield has been so plentiful in recent years, it would be “prudent to initiate a process to slowly transition the industry away from several practices that we view as undesirable and/or damaging in order to promote the long-term viability of stock and industry,” the report says.

The authors recommend that the state gradually reduce the number of traps “in a very predictable and transparent way.”

Weaver, the lawmaker from York, said he doesn’t believe that lobsters are being overfished, but he agrees that the industry likely faces changes.

“We’re going to look at that (number of traps) because we’ve got to do something about it, but also we’re having a problem with letting new people into the industry,” he said, referring to restrictions on entry.

He agreed with the report’s evaluation that the DMR — in charge of one of Maine’s most lucrative industries — is running on a shoestring budget and is likely to get less federal money.

“It’s getting very tough and we’re looking for more money, but you know the state doesn’t have it, the federal government doesn’t have it. The options are to increase license fees,” Weaver said, while acknowledging that doing so would upset fishermen.

“You try and work with them and see what you can do, but sometimes you may have to do something that’s not pleasant, and I hope we don’t, but it’s getting serious, as indicated by this report,” he said.

On the upside, the report highlights potential for expanding the industry through shellfish processing and for increasing aquaculture opportunities by streamlining government permitting.

Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for LePage, said Monday that the administration is not prepared to discuss plans for following up on the report’s recommendations until specific legislation is drafted.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

[email protected]