Friday, December 13, 2013
AUGUSTA — Members of the Legislature's Marine Resources Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to table a measure to reorganize and fund a group that would market and promote Maine lobster.
Lawmakers want more information about who in the industry will bear the brunt of funding for the Maine Lobster Promotion Council. The cost is to be divvied up among various interest groups -- from lobstermen who harvest the catch to those who sell, transport or process it.
The bill, L.D. 486, is designed to enhance the standing of Maine lobster. Its explicit goal is to increase the profitability of the lobster industry across the board, particularly for harvesters -- a result not everyone is convinced can be achieved by marketing, some legislators said in the work session.
If lawmakers enact the proposal, the council will be phased in with graduated yearly increases, raising the budget from the current $375,000 for the council to $3 million in the revamped organization's third year.
Committee members were unable to reach agreement about how to equitably distribute both costs and returns from the marketing effort. They failed to decide whether lobstermen, dealers, processors and transporters should share equally in the cost of marketing programs or whether one group or another should be expected to pay more.
The new council -- which has not yet been formally named or structured -- would be funded by surcharges on lobster industry licenses at all levels. Additional charges would range from less than $100 to more than $1,000, depending on the license class.
However, members of the committee as well as lobstermen in several legislators' districts have expressed concern about the percentages, lawmakers said.
The Department of Marine Resources outlined the effects of various funding scenarios, including having lobstermen paying an equal, greater or lesser percentage of the total than dealers, processors and transporters.
However, the projections raised even more questions, and the committee remained divided about which plan would be most effective and acceptable to a community of self-reliant fishermen.
Lawmakers wanted to be more certain about which plan was most likely to satisfy a principal goal of the proposal: to raise lobster revenues substantially over last year, which saw near-record low prices per pound at the pier.
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