Editorial by Rep. Lydia Blume
When people across the world think of Maine, one of the first things that come to mind is lobster. Lobster and its fishery are central to the culture and the psyche of our state - especially our coastal communities. It is one of the major reasons people visit Maine and the lobster industry contributes greatly to our overall economy.
Our Maine lobster commercial fishery is special and the envy of the world. Lobstermen developed their own system of conservation measures to ensure the sustainability of the fishery long before the concept was common practice. It is well worth protecting and improving when needed.
Why is this fishery so successful? There are three basic reasons.
First, we have an owner-operator based licensing system. It promotes independence, variety in the fleet, responsibility and rewards hard work.
Second, we have an integrated apprenticeship program to become an owner-operator. This slows entry into the fishery and passes on Maine’s strong traditions, rules, and conservation measures, such as strict adherence to size limits and notching of egg-bearing females. This promotes the continued good stewardship of the resource and individual commitment to its continued success.
Finally, we have a Zone Council system. The coast is divided into seven geographic zones, each with its own lobster management council. This allows for localized authority over certain aspects of the fishery and for the cultural, economic and resource differences that exist across Maine’s coastal communities.
All of these things combine to ensure that fishermen are proud and profitable in their chosen livelihoods and that the fishery will continue to be healthy into the future.
There is a major problem facing the fishery, however. The limited entry system has become bogged down, and people who have finished the apprenticeship program can end up waiting for years to get a license. Some people have been waiting for up to 12 years before they move off the list and become licensed owner-operators. This results in people getting frustrated and leaving the fishery, and it discourages young people from entering the industry in the first place. Something has to give if we are to keep our lobster fishery healthy.
I serve on the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee, and we have a bill before us, LD 1503, to make entry into the fishery a shorter, smoother and more predictable process. As written, the bill calls for creating a new “limited” license that would allow the holder to have up to 300 traps, as opposed to the 800 traps allowed under the existing license.
As we have been looking into the problems with lobster licensing, however, we have been hearing about other possibilities for improving the system for entering the fishery.
The task before our committee is complicated and it will be hard, if not impossible, to please everyone. We all must remember that the lobster industry is bigger than any individual or part of the state. We, legislators, lobster fishermen and regulators, must all do our part in helping to preserve this core component of our Maine brand.
I am confident that if we all work together, we will come up with a solution that will allow people into the fishery in a timely manner and still protect the quality and sustainability of this iconic Maine resource.