DEER ISLE — Local fishing authorities in Maine’s busiest lobster region say newcomers must wait for someone else to give up their license before they can set traps in local waters.

The lobster council that oversees the area that includes Stonington and Vinalhaven, the top two lobster ports in Maine, voted 6-1 Thursday night to close the state’s last open lobster zone. The state’s other six regions already require apprentices who complete their training to wait, sometimes for as long as a decade, for others in their area to give up their licenses before they can fish.

“I was asked by an enormous number of fishermen to slow this thing down,” said council Chairman Hilton Turner.

With landings and prices both high, local lobstermen worry that outsiders are rushing to this area to cash in on the good times and catch lobsters that should be filling the pots, and bank accounts, of local fishing families. They are driving up the price of bait and forcing lobstermen such as David Tarr of Brooklin, who sits on the state Lobster Advisory Council, to spend his days unsnarling his gear.

STATE OFFICIAL HAS FINAL SAY

The vote came on the heels of a July referendum of local licensed lobstermen that showed almost three out of four who voted supported a waiting-list system. Only lobstermen in the island communities of Criehaven and Matinicus, which struggle to maintain their year-round populations, voted against it. Their council representative, Jeff Jones, voted against the measure Thursday night, too.

It is now up to Patrick Keliher, commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, to decide whether to implement the council’s vote, as well as adopt the council’s proposed one-in, one-out exit ratio. Some lobstermen had wanted more fishermen to leave before a wait-listed apprentice could fish, but a 1-to-1 ratio was favored by a majority of lobstermen who voted in July.

The council also voted to grandfather any local apprentice who had completed 92 percent of the required training by the start of the summer. That isn’t going to help Pat Murphy, an older apprentice who fell 11 days shy of making the 92 percent cutoff. He told the council Thursday that he had decided to pursue his lobster license after returning from military service, but fell short when his captain became ill last summer.

“To be so close and now have to wait, it’s not fair,” Murphy said. “I was serving my country. I should have the right to fish now that I’m back home. I shouldn’t have to wait for someone to retire or die.”

Council member Robert Ray told Murphy that he felt bad about his situation, but said the closure had to take place because so many people were taking advantage of Zone C and its no-wait system, moving in from out of town and competing for ocean bottom with locals who have fished these waters for years.

‘BITTER PILL FOR SOME PEOPLE’

“It is a bitter pill for some people,” said council member Ted Ames, nodding.

Ames, who repeatedly called himself the “old goat in the room,” abstained, saying he felt like he had to know more before he could vote. He also said that he worried that establishing a one-out, one-in system could lead to even more Draconian measures in the future. Some of the other areas require five fishermen to leave before a wait-listed apprentice can fish on his or her own, which Ames believes is too harsh.

“There comes a point when maybe you have to say enough is enough because Mother Nature can only produce so many lobsters in one season,” he said.