Portland’s wharves tell the story of Maine’s struggling groundfish industry. Where dozens of commercial fishing boats once tied up, you might find only one or two today.

That is mostly a result of the collapse of groundfish stocks and their slow rebound under tight federal regulations. New England is asking for disaster relief funds for the fishery — and it’s a disaster not just for the fishermen, but also for the businesses that sold them food, gas and ice, repaired their engines and sold and processed their catch.

But that’s not the whole story. There are Maine boats you won’t see tied up at Portland wharves anymore. Most of them are not landing their catch here; they are taking it to Massachusetts. In addition to the fish they scooped in their trawlers, they can sell incidentally caught lobsters, which they are prohibited from selling here.

L.D. 1097, a bill that would change that, is now before the Legislature, and it would be a lifeline for the groundfishermen and the dry-land businesses that depend on them. The bill’s backers estimate that 350 jobs are at stake.

It’s important to remember that this proposal is not about legalizing the practice of catching lobsters in fishing gear: This already is allowed in federally regulated waters. And it’s not about catching more lobsters: They are already being caught by Maine boats and landed in Gloucester.

This bill is about where you can sell the lobsters that are already being caught.


And what effect has that had on Maine’s lobster trap fishery? In 2012, 126 million pounds of trap-caught lobster worth $340 million was landed and sold.

It was a new record. Apparently, the by-catch lobsters caught and sold in Massachusetts did not damage the viability of Maine’s most successful fishery.

Maine has 48 percent of the coastline of New England, but only 6 percent of the 61 million pounds of fish caught in the region is landed here. Fishermen estimate that allowing ground fishermen to sell lobsters in Maine would result in 16 million pounds of groundfish sold here annually that now goes out of state.

Maine’s lobstermen deserve credit for their self-regulation and conservation efforts that have made record catches possible. But allowing groundfishermen to sell lobsters here would be a small change that would help out an industry struggling to hang on.

If the Maine boats could land their catch in Maine, that would help what’s left of the groundfish industry survive. Those jobs are worth saving. The Legislature should pass L.D. 1097.


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