AUGUSTA — In summer, the Gulf of Maine is so full of lobster traps that Ian Lussier can barely set a safe trap.

The Owls Head lobsterman, 30, has come to dread summer fishing because of the time he must spend untangling fishing gear. With that many people fishing, people are bound to set their traps too close to one another.

That leads to wasted time, lost gear and shoulders hurt from trying to haul knotted-up trawls into the boat, Lussier said. A particularly gnarly offshore tangle cost Lussier a tooth over the summer when a parted ground line sent a hook flying up into his face.

“Everybody wants to go lobstering, but there are only so many parking spots in the parking lot,” Lussier told state lawmakers on Tuesday. “There is only so much room for traps and that room is taken up.”

Lussier was one of about two dozen lobstermen to weigh in on a proposed bill that would give a lobster fishing license to anyone who has completed the state apprentice program and been on one of the state’s seven regional license waitlists for 10 years or more.

Fifty-five of Maine’s 274 apprentices started their wait for a state lobster license more a decade ago, state records show. As a closed fishery, the number of lobster licenses available is capped. Apprentices must wait for license holders to quit or die before they can join.

The average lobster apprentice in Maine must wait longer than a real estate agent, electrician or plumber, or even a doctor or lawyer, to do the job for which they are trained, according to Jack Merrill, a longtime lobsterman who fishes out of Cranberry Isles.

The bill, proposed by Rep. Joyce “Jay” McCreight, D-Harpswell, would speed up their long wait.

The hearing provoked passionate testimony on both sides. Waitlisters talked about years spent hauling for others, unable to earn enough money to buy a house, while opponents talked about overcrowded waters, a bait crunch and looming right whale regulations.

“We just don’t have the room for six or seven new guys,” said Matthew Gilley of Harpswell.

Sen. Dave Miramant, D-Camden, and Rep. Joyce McCreight, D-Harpswell, listen as Jack Merrill of Mount Desert Island testifies in favor of L.D. 28 on Tuesday before the Marine Resources Committee. McCreight is proposing the legislation to shorten wait times for lobster fishing licenses.

Kristan Porter, president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, said his organization voted Monday to oppose the bill, concluding it would send the wrong message to federal regulators in charge of protecting endangered right whales from lobster gear entanglement.

Regulators want the industry to reduce its fishing effort, not increase it, Porter said.

“We are trying to negotiate the best deal we can get to keep this industry and its traditions alive,” Porter told the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee on Tuesday. “And it does not look good if the state is loosening up requirements for entry.”

The state Department of Marine Resources is not taking a side in the waitlist debate, but urged lawmakers to consider holding the proposed bill until after federal regulators come out with their plan to protect right whales. At least some lawmakers agreed.

Kristan Porter, president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, told lawmakers that his organization voted Monday to oppose the bill, concluding it would send the wrong message to federal regulators who are in charge of protecting right whales from lobster gear entanglements.

Waitlisters noted that waters are not so crowded, nor the federal pressure to decrease effort so great, that Maine is willing to make students who complete an apprenticeship before turning 23 wait to get a license. Currently, students get to bypass the waitlist.

“Guys got greedy,” said sternman Josh Kane of Bar Harbor. “They protected their henhouse.”

Evan Thompson of York is a fourth-generation lobstermen who has four sons. Three didn’t want to fish. The fourth was taken out of state as a young child. Upon his return to the family and the state as an adult, he now faces a decadelong wait before he can fish.

“There’s no hope for these people,” Thompson said. “Some of the guys down our way were on the list for 16 years. Some of these guys, they have been treated like meat. They had a dream and they ended up leaving because their dream is dead.”


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