July 31, 2014 | Incorporating the Inter-Island News
BUSINESS, ENVIRONMENT, MARINE

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June 18, 2013
Op-Ed

Rejecting bill on 'incidental' lobster catch was right move

by Mick Devin

Every year, thousands of people from all over the world come to visit Maine. They're drawn to our coast, our lakes, ponds and streams, our mountains and our woods. And they're also drawn to our lobster, as most any tourist will tell you.

Lobster can enjoy the status is has because of all we have done over the course of decades to protect this vital fishery. What other place in the world has harvested lobster for more than 150 years and still has a successful fishery? Our lobster fishery supports a $1 billion industry and 7,000 jobs.

To protect this fishery we must be vigilant. A bill recently before the Legislature could have seriously jeopardized the lobster fishery, despite its good intentions of helping groundfishermen. I'm proud to say that lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected this bill.

The proposal, LD 1549, would have encouraged trawler practices that are dangerous to lobsters and their habitat. The health and numbers of the offshore lobster population are keys to the success of the inland fisheries that support lobstermen and other occupations in the lobster industry.

Under the measure, groundfishermen would have been able to keep "incidentally" caught lobster offshore and sell the lobster out of state. Groundfishermen are looking to benefit from lobster they catch offshore because groundfish stocks are depleted. Currently, landing lobster bycatch can lead to a fine of up to $50,000.

Maine has wisely prohibited this practice. New Hampshire and Massachusetts allow the landing and sale of lobster bycatch. Our solution must not be the lowest common denominator but instead should bring those states in line with Maine's sustainable practices.

The brood stock for inshore lobsters is located offshore. It's those offshore lobsters that produce larvae that are transported to shallow coastal locations where they settle and grow into juvenile lobsters. As they mature, they migrate to deeper waters. They don't reach breeding age until about ten years, so large-scale deaths offshore kill off future populations of inshore lobsters. It can take decades for populations to rebound.

Catching lobsters offshore is like eating seed potatoes in the winter. It defies common sense.

Overwhelming evidence shows that dragging damages the ocean floor. It can also mangle lobsters, rendering them unfit for sale and unlikely to survive. These lobsters are thrown overboard and left to die.

The practices of Maine's inshore trap lobster fishery recently won it sustainability certification from the Marine Stewardship Council. LD 1549 would have discouraged ecological practices and jeopardized the certification, which is both a testament to our practices and a mark of distinction that could boost demand and prices. 

The lobster industry has avoided the precipitously declining landings that now characterize the codfish and sea urchin industries today. But a century ago, the lobster industry struggled with the same problems. The current regulations weren't adopted until the 1930s and it took another two decades for the lobster population to recover.

Lobstermen have been rewarded for their patience and the adherence to sustainable practices. They have embraced laws on lobster size, gear and the required release of egg-bearing females.

There are ways to help groundfishermen while preserving lobstering in Maine. We should support the $3.5 million bond that would allow Maine fishermen to buy permits below market price and have an increased share of the allowable catch. We should invest in processing and freezing technology to compete with processing centers in Boston and Canada. And, more importantly, we can lobby the federal government to stop "incidental" lobster bycatch in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

We must make remain opposed to short-sighted measures like LD 1549. Our lobster industry is too important to jeopardize.

Rep. Mick Devin is serving his first term in the Legislature and represents Newcastle, Damariscotta, Edgecomb, Bristol, South Bristol and Monhegan Plantation. He is a marine biologist who works at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole.

 

 

 

 

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