Politics

April 9, 2013

Net bycatch: A ‘lifeline’ for some, a threat for lobstermen

The bill would permit trawlers to sell "incidentally caught" lobsters, something Maine lobstermen strongly oppose.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

Today's poll: Net bycatch

Should Maine allow fishermen to keep and sell lobsters that they catch in their nets?

Yes

No

View Results

click image to enlarge

In this December 11, 2012 file photo, lobster boats in Kettle Cove, Cape Elizabeth. A proposed bill would permit trawlers to sell "incidentally caught" Maine lobsters, something lobstermen strongly oppose.

"This is an astounding outcome," he said. 

Lobstermen said the bill wouldn't save the groundfish industry and could only hurt a lobster fishery that's experiencing intense fishing pressure, depressed market prices and the northward spread of shell disease from southern New England. 

Maine lobstermen landed 123 million pounds of lobsters in 2012, an increase of about 18 million pounds over 2011. Despite record landings, the market value has dropped. 

The total value for landings in 2012 was $331 million, down by $3.7 million from 2011. Last year's average price of $2.69 per pound was Maine's lowest since 1994, and well below the $3.19 average of 2011, according to Department of Marine Resources reports.

Cousens, with the Maine Lobstermen's Association, noted that groundfishermen in Massachusetts have been known to target large female lobsters, which are vital to the industry.

Massachusetts and other states allow  groundfish boats to catch up to 100 lobsters per day, or up to 500 per five-day trip. Lobstermen say the quota should be by the pound to guard against taking large lobsters. 

The point was reinforced by Bob Steneck, a professor in the University of Maine's School of Marine Sciences. Steneck wrote in a report in 2011 that if lobster bycatch were allowed it could create a "perverse incentive for draggers to target large offshore lobsters."

Diane Cowan, a scientist for The Lobster Conservancy, said the taking of large female lobsters could devastate the fishery.

The bycatch issue is sensitive. Over 400 people testified against Haskell's bill during the 2007 public hearing held at the Augusta Civic Center.

Lobstermen unleashed a similarily intense lobbying effort in 2011 against former LePage administration Marine Resources Commissioner Norman Olsen. Olsen had made a public push to change the Maine bycatch law.

He later found himself at odds with LePage, whose office was innundated with phone calls, letters and emails from the lobster industry urging the administration to abandon changing the bycatch rules.

Olsen abruptly resigned in 2011 and blasted LePage in a highly publicized letter that was leaked to the media.  

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

smistler@pressherald.com

twitter.com/stevemistler

 

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Today's poll: Net bycatch

Should Maine allow fishermen to keep and sell lobsters that they catch in their nets?

Yes

No

View Results