A LOBSTERMAN at the Harpswell wharf, as seen this past summer. A Harpswell state legislator is working on a bill that would allow terminally ill lobstermen to be granted a waiver for a family member to work on their lobstering license.

A LOBSTERMAN at the Harpswell wharf, as seen this past summer. A Harpswell state legislator is working on a bill that would allow terminally ill lobstermen to be granted a waiver for a family member to work on their lobstering license.

HARPSWELL

A new proposal could help Maine lobstermen fighting terminal illness who can’t afford to stop fishing.

State Rep. Joyce “Jay” McCreight, D-Harpswell, is working on a bill allowing family members of a terminally ill lobsterman to fish using his or her license.

“I was contacted by two lobstermen in Harpswell — relatives, one of whom had been diagnosed with a terminal illness,” said McCreight.

The current system allows someone else to fish on their license for two weeks if the lobsterman is undergoing surgery or some other crisis, according to McCreight. Another, one-year waiver that McCreight called “an end of life waiver,” allows others to fish on their license “as you’re getting your affairs in order.”

According to McCreight, neither waiver “was going to be helpful” to the Harpswell lobsterman who contacted her. The current allowance has a one-year limit, which made it a poor fit for the lobsterman.

Diagnosed with terminal cancer, the constituent needs to work and needs the income, said McCreight, but is unable to fish full time.

“He’s healthy enough to fish some of the time, but not all of the time,” said McCreight. “He doesn’t want to stop fishing, and can’t afford to stop fishing. But he’s not able to do it full time, partly because of the illness and partly because of the treatment.”

In essence, McCreight’s bill would be an extension of the Temporary Medical Allowance, which allows lobster license holders to temporarily have another individual use their license if they cannot work for a medical reason.

McCreight’s bill, which is yet to be officially drafted, would create a new “temporary terminal illness medical allowance,” which would allow a lobsterman who is diagnosed with a terminal illness to continue working part time, and share his license with another operation. The new allowance could be renewed for up to three years.

Only one additional person would be allowed on the license, either a spouse or child, which is in line with the current Temporary Medical Allowance. The license holder must be on the boat for at least half of the fishing hours.

The proposal is meant to fill a gap between short-term medical waivers and those who can still work, but only on a limited basis. The waiver would not apply to those with chronic illnesses, however.

It’s important to McCreight, however, that the waiver not become a loophole to get around laws preventing lobstering licenses from being bought, sold, traded or passed on.

“Knowing the lobster community, I think there’s some concern that this would have too many loopholes — that someone could abuse the system,” said McCreight. “I am very interested, and so is my constituent, that this be tight, so it isn’t abused.”

For that reason, the proposed legislation has a number of checks. Lobster license holders must produce written documentation of a terminal illness from two licensed medical practitioners, one of whom must be a specialist. Furthermore, the operator and licensed lobsterman must track their hours and have them verified by the Marine Patrol. The same process is used for student licenses.

McCreight says she will be seeking additional input on safeguards when the bill goes before the Legislature. The point of the program is to give some flexibility to those who are placed in a situation where they have a terminal illness, but still want or need work.

“It’s all about trying to continue to be self-sufficient,” said McCreight.

The Legislative Council approved McCreight’s proposal for consideration last week for the next legislative session, which begins in January. The bill’s language will be drafted over the next few weeks before being considered by the Maine Legislature.

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