News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, October 9, 2014 and The Weekly Packet, October 9, 2014
Zone C members discuss federal rule-making

by Jessica Brophy

Sarah Cotnoir, Resource Coordinator for the Maine Department of Marine Resources, alerted the Zone C Council to a New England Fisheries Management Council draft amendment to the Magnuson Stevens Act.

Council members and others at the Zone C meeting on September 25 discussed the potential amendment as well as the state-level push for a Lobster Fishery Management Plan, an update on the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative and the finalized vertical line rule which will go into effect next year.

The Magnuson Stevens Act regulates commercial fishing in the U.S., and it requires the NEFMC designate “Essential Fish Habitat” and identify areas of concern and research. While the draft amendment deals primarily with groundfish and those fisheries that employ “mobile bottom tending gears” (bottom trawlers or draggers), there is some discussion of the effect of any gear capable of catching groundfish.

“Lobster gear is definitely on the radar, especially in western [Casco Bay area] Maine,” said Cotnoir. “Everything and anything is on the table.”

Of particular interest is the amount of cod bycatch in lobster traps, said Cotnoir.

The amendment, which could adopt new year-round or seasonal habitat or groundfish spawning closures, as well as implement year-round research areas, will be open for comment this fall. Maine will have two public hearings, though they have not been scheduled yet, according to a handout from Cotnoir.

Any rule implementation will not take place until late 2015 at the earliest.

In other business, the council elected officers, which remained the same as last year. This includes Hilton Turner of Stonington as chairman, David Tarr of Brooklin as the Lobster Advisory Council representative, Michael Sherman of Brooklin as the vice-chairman and LAC Alternate and Justin Boyce of Stonington as secretary. Genevieve Kurilec McDonald of Stonington is a new Downeast representative on the LAC.

The Zone Council discussed a 2013 law which requires the DMR to develop fishery management plans, including one for the lobster industry. Cotnoir made clear that the elements of fishery management are already in place—things like trap allowances, license allowances in other zones than C, and the v-notch conservation measures. The plan, she said, would simply codify those measures in one place. The timeline for a fisheries management plan is the next two years.

Cotnoir said a goal of the plan is to be inclusive and support the “diversity within the fleet.” As such, any plan would need to take into account the needs of big boats and small, those who fish inside and farther out.

There was a brief discussion about the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, which Cotnoir said is starting with domestic promotion of Maine lobster. Chairman Turner noted the stronger price this year, saying he thinks the stronger price is “a matter of supply and demand.”

Zone C council member and LAC member Tarr, and LAC member McDonald reported that the July LAC meeting was dominated by a discussion of drugs and drug testing.

“A lot of the big [lobster regulation] violations have to do with pressures to earn money for drugs,” said McDonald. The question of whether random drug tests were possible and what the guidelines for testing would be, as well as what drugs would be tested for, was also discussed at the LAC meeting, according to Tarr and McDonald.

Marine patrol officer Sean Dow said more patrolmen are training as Drug Recognition Experts, which means officers would be more adept at recognizing the signs of drug influence and addiction. DRE-trained officers would follow the more traditional Operating Under the Influence-model of patrolling, wherein those suspected of operating under the influence would be assessed by a patrolman and taken in if suspected of operating under the influence.

McDonald said she thought there should be a drug-testing component to the licensing process. “If someone has an addiction, it’s unlikely they could stay clean long enough to get the license,” she said.

There was also a brief discussion about the finalized vertical line rules, meant to reduce the number of vertical lines in the water to safeguard against whale entanglement. The rules include trawling up minimums outside the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan Exemption line. Beyond the three-mile line, with some pocket water boundary lines excepted, there is a three-trap trawl minimum, and beyond the six mile line there is a five-trap trawl minimum. Beyond the 12-mile line is a 15-trap trawl minimum. There are also new regulations requiring rope marking, all of which come into effect as of June 1, 2015.

For the most part, said Cotnoir, the trawling up requirements reflect practices already common among fishermen. There are a few fishermen who are petitioning the state for waivers from the 15-trap minimum, due to boat size or safety concerns.