Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Lobstermen Protest Groundfishing Law

In Maine, if you're trawling for groundfish and catch a lobster, you have two choices: throw it back or take it down to Massachusetts where you can sell the lobsters. 12,000 pounds of Maine lobster ended up being sold in the Bay State in 2005--a very small fraction of the 67.3 million pounds of lobster caught by Maine Lobstermen in that year--but enough to convince many groundfishermen to sell their fish at Massachusetts piers.

So the state of Maine wants to make it legal for those lobsters to be sold here and have a bill pending that would do so.

As with many things in Maine, there isn't a clear-cut answer: the lobstermen oppose the bill, primarily because the lobsters caught in groundnets are the large female breeding lobsters that produce millions of eggs each year. Additionally, the lobstermen believe that a change in the bill would mean more trawlers targeting the lobsters and actually increase the numbers caught and sold (Federal law allows 100 lobster a day or 500 lobsters per trip to be kept in these circumstances).

Supporters of the bill say it's important because the number of boats selling fish at the Portland Fish Exchange has dropped from 250 to 110. The number of jobs at Maine processing plants has dropped to 800, down from the high of 1,700. They also contend that the lobsters caught 50 miles out to sea don't have any interaction with the lobsters caught by the traditional Maine lobsterman so there's no need to fear this bill.

Maine lobstermen have long practiced conservation and careful preservation of their fishing grounds, with the end result of lobstering being one of the few healthy fisheries left in New England. They've marshalled all 6500 lobstermen in opposition to this bill.

More information here.
The GloucesterTimes (Gloucester, MA) provides the Bay State perspective.
The Working Waterfront weighs in. (The Working Waterfront is the monthly published by The Island Institute. If you have any interest in Maine Island life, visit their museum/storefront in Rockland or on-line here).

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