Members of the lobster industry listen intently to Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher as he proposes changes to the entry program.

Members of the lobster industry listen intently to Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher as he proposes changes to the entry program.

KENNEBUNK — Lobstermen from along the coast of southern Maine gathered in the Kennebunk High School gymnasium Tuesday to hear proposals by Commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources Patrick Keliher, in one of eight meetings scheduled in each of the lobster management zones.

The refrain that Keliher gave was that “people want some predictability.” Among the issues he cited with the current model was the waiting period for new lobstermen to become licensed and the inflexibility of some regulations surrounding the student program.

Keliher was talking to lobstermen in Zone G, the furthest south area of lobster management, which extends south from the Portland area to the New Hampshire line. He noted that the zone had one of the lowest catch limits, and yet the fishery had seen a large increase in value over the past few years as prices and the number of landed lobsters increased. The waiting list for new licenses was also high – with 60 people on the list – the next in line having waited since 2006.

The first major change to the system would be changing the entry-exit system back to licenses instead of tags. According to Keliher, this would allow the ratio of people leaving the lobster business to the people starting to trap lobster in Zone G – currently at around 18:1 – to flatten to a ratio of closer to 5:1 or 3:1, giving people on the waiting list more surety and predictability.

The second proposal would be to move the age of the student system from 18 to 23. This would allow greater flexibility for young people who are still sorting out their plans, which is something that the commissioner says he deals with very often.

“Students have to decide by the time they are 15 to become lobstermen,” Keliher said, describing situations in which students have tried to submit their paperwork a few weeks after their 18th birthday and he is forced to decline them.

The final proposal would be a “limited commercial license” with fewer tags for lobstermen considering retirement. Keliher noted he had received mixed thoughts on this proposal.

Members of the Zone G council noted that they had voted many times to keep the zone closed, and expressed concern that the DMR’s proposal would be warped and unrecognizable by the time it was passed by the Legislature.

“You have to look at it zone by zone,” said Steve Taylor, a lobsterman from Kittery.

Taylor commended the commissioner for taking the time to come and present his proposals to the industry. He said he was not in favor of adding more lobstermen to the zone by changing the entry system, but noted that things were looking good for the industry right now with stable supply and prices.

“It looks good right now but it can change at any time,” said lobsterman Peter Eaton, who also commended the commissioner for being there. “In a year it could change. We’ve seen really bad times.”


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