April 24, 2013

Maine lawmakers unanimously reject lobster bycatch bill

The bill would have allowed local fishermen to keep some lobsters caught in drag nets, but lobstermen vehemently objected.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA – Lawmakers on the Maine Legislature's Joint Standing Committee on Marine Resources effectively killed a bill Wednesday that would allow fishermen to keep and sell lobsters caught in trawling nets.

click image to enlarge

In this July 2012 file photo, Jack Burke selects lobsters for a customer at Free Range Fish & Lobster market in Portland. awmakers on the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee effectively killed a bill Wednesday that would allow fishermen to keep and sell lobsters caught in trawling nets.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

The panel voted unanimously -- with two members absent -- to defeat the bill, a move that likely means it will fail when it comes up for full votes in the House and Senate.

The bill, L.D. 1097, had reignited an old debate between supporters, who claimed that the bill would save Maine's flagging groundfishing industry, and lobstermen, who said the proposal would endanger the lobster fishery.

Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the sponsoredthe bill to permit trawlers to land "incidentally caught" lobsters, known as bycatch, in some federally regulated waters and sell them at the Portland Fish Exchange.

The bill had the support of the LePage administration and Portland Mayor Michael Brennan. The administration argued that lobsters are already being drag-caught in federal waters, then landed and sold in other states.

Haskell, in a written statement, said she hoped that the administration and the committee would find an "alternate path that will support the goals of preserving Maine's fishing infrastructure." 

Haskell submitted a similar proposal in 2007, but it was soundly defeated as lobstermen argued that drag gear indiscriminately harms lobsters and endangers the large females that are considered the lifeblood of the fishery.

The latest proposal drew similar opposition. Lobstermen argued that groundfishing vessels would target lobster, damage the product and undercut conservation efforts.

Haskell's bill would have allowed landings of drag-caught lobsters only from Area 3, a federally regulated zone that extends from Maine to the mid-Atlantic states and begins about 40 miles off the Maine coast.

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

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