Lobstermen work with state on new penalties for violationsFishermen pack Samoset for industry forum
Enforcement of marine resource laws was the top concern when lobstermen met with state regulators March 3 at the Maine Fishermen's Forum.
Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher and Col. Jon Cornish of the Maine Marine Patrol met with the Maine Lobstermen's Association in a packed meeting room at the Samoset Resort to talk about the state's efforts to improve enforcement of marine resource laws.
"You guys don't agree on much," moderator Patrice McCarron of the Maine Lobstermen's Association said, earning a laugh from the gathered fishermen. She said the common ground the fishermen had found was their concern about violations. "Lobstermen deserve to work on a level playing field," she said, but violations make that field unfair, and there was concern the penalties have not been severe enough to deter illegal activity.
Work had begun long before the forum with a survey of lobstermen in the association and throughout the fishing industry to see what their top priorities were in terms of enforcement. The results of that survey led to a bill going before the Maine Legislature to improve the state's lobster laws.
The bill will establish minimum penalties, including license suspensions for scrubbing lobsters, fishing over trap limits, fishing sunken trawls or untagged gear, and molesting lobster traps.
It also sets fines for violations, including keeping short, over-sized, v-notched or eggbearing female lobsters, and higher minimum penalties for repeat offenders.
The bill also would require violators to pay restitution equal to the cost of the law enforcement investigation. The fishermen supported this because the state resources for dealing with violations are limited.
In addition, under the bill, violators would have to start as new entrants with 300-trap limits when reentering the fishery.
It would also allow the commissioner of Marine Resources to revoke the licenses of those found guilty of sinking, burning or otherwise destroying another fisherman's vessel.
In the survey more than 90 percent favored revoking licenses for sinking or burning boats, while 7 percent were opposed to that enforcement.
"Who were the 7 percent that said no?" a fisherman asked.
"The guys sinking the boats," someone else said, prompting laughter among the attendees.
The draft of the bill, titled, "An act to improve enforcement of Maine's lobster laws," has been sent to the Legislature's Marine Resources Committee and a public hearing on it will be held Monday, March 6, at 10 a.m. at the Cross Building, Room 206, in Augusta.
Fishermen also expressed concern about widespread drug use in the industry. Keliher said problems that start with drugs on the land often lead to problems on the water. Fishermen who need money for drugs may be tempted to commit violations. He said he witnessed a heroin addict half passed out at his desk while the fisherman's attorney was trying to defend him in an enforcement proceeding.
Cornish said the Marine Patrol will likely have to add staff trained as drug recognition experts because of the increasing problem.
Fishermen asked how the behavior of a sternman on drugs would affect the boat owner in terms of enforcement and were told, "You are responsible for what happens on your boat."
There was discussion of the possibility of making drug-testing mandatory, but so far that is not being proposed, according to Cornish.
"If they do mandatory testing, we're all going to be going alone," said Bob Williams of Stonington. He said the drug problem is that widespread in the younger generation.
The session was the Maine Lobstermen's Association's 63rd annual meeting.
Keliher said there was good news in the industry, with record value and landings. The overall landed value of the Maine lobster fishery reached more than $547 million in 2016 and it was the first year Maine lobster harvesters landed more than 130 million pounds, he reported.
The session was only one of 30 seminars being held at the Samoset Resort during the forum. The event has also drawn 130 exhibitors for its trade show and an attendance of as many as 4,000 people.
Daniel Dunkle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 594-4401 ext. 122. Follow him on Twitter @DanDunkle.