What I know about dragged lobsters, LD 1097, and why you should be concerned
Augusta, Maine — LD 1097, An Act to Allow the Sale of Incidentally Caught Lobsters, was voted out of my committee (Marine Resources) last Wednesday to a tie vote. Senator Woodbury was not present, and if he votes to support, then this bill will have a majority Ought to Pass report by one vote.
On the face of it, I can understand why Senator Haskell of Cumberland has presented this bill. She's trying to help a ground fishing fleet of roughly twelve vessels to either stay in or relocate to the Portland Fish Pier, which would provide economic opportunity. Currently, incidentally caught lobsters in one particular zone can not be on board, and can glean a fine of up to 50,000 dollars. However, the irony as near as I can understand (because it really makes no sense) is that a vessel home ported in say, Gloucester, can come into the zone, retain incidentally caught lobsters, head home, and unload them in Massachusetts with no potential for penalty and with the added value of having another species to sell.
Unfortunately, this particular zone is regulated by the Feds, so Maine can't tell Massachusetts to employ means not to entangle lobsters when dragging.
So, given that we can't stop the Massachusetts fleet from "incidentally" catching lobster, doesn't it make sense to bring the fleet home and have the benefit of all the economic activity on Maine soil?
That's what the Department of Marine Resources seems to think. But, I don't, and I won't support it. Neither will several of my committee colleagues, as mentioned, one of whom is a marine biologist, and one of whom is our own senator.
As near as I can tell, there's nothing really "incidental" about catching lobsters, either in a trap or dragged. When a dragger drops the net, there are these big gigantic "doors" and there are also weights that hold the net down. The operators of the vessel can control whether those doors hit the bottom and the net drags the bottom, or whether the whole thing hovers up above the bottom. Most fish don't swim by crawling along the bottom of the sea bed. But, our state bug does. (No, not the black fly.) And lobsters get caught in the nets when the doors are down on the floor of the sea bed.
So if Maine vessels aren't allowed to keep lobster caught in drags, instead of the whole fleet moving to Massachusetts, or staying there, couldn't they just throw the lobsters back? Well, a lobster that has been caught in a drag probably won't survive if thrown back. Think about it- you're caught in a net, and dragged along the floor of the ocean, crammed in with other fish, seaweed, whatever. Their gills get filled with mud. Their shells cracked. Legs missing. Claws missing.
And this should also give you a pretty clear picture of what bottom dragging is all about. The delicate balance of the ocean floor, scraped by massive drags.
Personally, I think that my committee should issue a letter, immediately, to the Federal Government insisting that bottom dragging in Maine waters stop. Canada has done just this. Several of us thought that this would be a good idea, but, the sparks flew. Maybe because it was the day after our long night session trying to resolve the hospital and Medicaid expansion bill, but, nerves were frayed. I pushed hard to keep asking questions, and one of my colleagues was getting exasperated that we couldn't move on. We had to laugh about it and apologize the next day, but, that's the climate we are in right now. I'm still going to push for a letter, and pressure on the Federal authorities, because this just isn't right.
And I think you should know about it, considering that the lobsters in all zones are the same lobsters. They don't really live in separate areas. They can cover huge ground- so this dragging is hurting the lobsters upon which our region depends for its economic well-being.
Please let me know your thoughts on this issue- as you can tell, I'm pretty opposed to the whole thing, but, maybe there is something I am missing. I'm pretty sure the lobstering community here will not want to support this bill, but please do be in touch with me if you would like to discuss.