News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, July 13, 2017 and The Weekly Packet, July 13, 2017
New legislation tightens lobster laws enforcement

by Anne Berleant

Passed as emergency legislation, LD 575 An Act to Improve the Enforcement of Maine’s Lobster Laws went into effect on June 14.

The bill, presented by Senator Brian Langley (R-Hancock), easily passed through the Joint Committee on Marine Resources, was overwhelmingly approved by a House vote, and enacted as emergency law by a 32-1 vote in the Senate.

Changes to the laws include:

mandatory minimum and maximum lengths of license suspension for violations;

mandatory permanent license revocation for repeated violations;

use of a tracker to record the speed and location of a vessel suspected of criminal violation, if a judge determines probable cause and signs a warrant;

use of a vessel monitoring system upon suspension, for a length of time equal to the license suspension, at the discretion of the commissioner, with costs paid by the license holder;

reduction of number of trap tags upon a fisherman’s re-entry to the fishery, at the discretion of the commissioner.

Julie Eaton, Chairman of the Maine Lobstering Union, voiced concerns at a March 6 public hearing, specifically over the reduction of tags, mandatory license suspensions and vessel monitoring: “This simply goes too far! For a lobsterman who has worked all his life, built up his business but screws up and commits a violation or sternman commits a violation (Captain is always responsible), [he] loses his license…and is further punished by gear reduction… and a tracking device, too.” The union also objected to a provision that did not make it into the final bill, that a fisherman convicted of a violation must pay back the costs of the investigation.

However, Maine Lobstermen’s Association Executive Director Patrice McCarron’s testimony stated: “While the majority of Maine lobstermen are hardworking and honest individuals …[t]here is growing concern that the rewards have become too great for those who break the law.”

Changes to criminal violations

Trap molesting is now a criminal violation, and permanent license revocation of a license after three such violations is required by law.

For fishing over the trap limit and fishing sunken trawls, permanent revocation of a license follows two convictions of violations.

For artificially removing the eggs from a female lobster (scrubbing), permanent license revocation is allowable for the first through third violation, with a minimum penalty of a four year license suspension.

For arson, or other means of destroying another lobsterman’s vessel, license revocation follows one conviction of the violation.

Fishing untagged gear over 25 traps is now considered a Class D criminal violation.

License suspensions for a first violation are a minimum of two and maximum of six years for trap molesting, and a minimum of three and maximum of 10 years for fishing over the trap limit and intentionally fishing sunken trawls.

The hearing and appeal process remains unchanged.

“I have heard many concerns about the cheating that has been occurring in this fishery, and am aware of the frustration it has caused the majority of our fishermen, who are honest and law abiding,” Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Pat Keliher wrote in a June 26 letter to license holders outlining the changes. “I sincerely hope that these new penalties will serve as an effective deterrent to these behaviors.”