May 28, 2013

Maine lawmakers divided over bill to end fines for lobster bycatch

Maine’s groundfishermen call the change necessary; lobstermen fear it will harm the state's most valuable fishery.

By Steve Mistler
State House Bureau

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click image to enlarge

In this Jan. 28, 2013, photo, a groundfishing boat makes its way back toward shore near the Portland Fish Pier. A bill in the Legislature would let the state's dwindling groundfishing fleet keep lobsters that come up in trawl nets and sell them in states that allow such lobsters to be landed.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

He said, "I want all the redfish Jimmy (Odlin) catches to be landed and processed in Portland. Everyone benefits from that."

Advocates for L.D. 1549 say the bill would allow Maine-based fishermen to bring lobster bycatch only to states where it's now allowed.

Maine's Department of Marine Resources, which supports the bill, noted Wednesday that Maine-based trawlers violate state law for holding lobsters in Area 3 even if they intend to land them in other states.

Meredith Mendelson, deputy commissioner for the department, also told lawmakers that the department has difficulty enforcing the current prohibition because it's unsafe for smaller Marine Patrol boats to venture so far offshore.

Jeff Nichols, a spokesman for the department, said Thursday that the Marine Patrol hasn't done any enforcement focused on trawlers in Area 3 in the last five years.

Maine is the only New England state that prohibits sales of lobster bycatch from federally regulated waters.

Diane Cowan, senior scientist and executive director of The Lobster Conservancy, said there's a reason that Maine and Canada prohibit bycatch. She said trawling for lobsters is harmful to the fishery, particularly brood lobsters, the large egg-producing females that migrate to deeper water.

Cowan told lawmakers that the bill is a crack in the door to an additional loosening of regulations. She urged lawmakers to keep the door shut.

"You need to work on the federal law to make sure there's no dragging anywhere," she said. "It's not allowed in Canada, it should not be allowed in the U.S. Dragging for lobsters is wrong."

Final language of the bill is expected to be drafted next week before going to the Senate for a preliminary vote.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at


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