ROCKPORT — Lobster fishing, the most lucrative commercial fishery in Maine with last year’s catch valued at $364.5 million, has a secret.
That is that nearly a third of the 6,000 people who hold Maine lobster licences are not actively fishing and catch almost nothing.
Almost half of the license holders land less than 14 percent of the total catch of tasty crustaceans. Commissioner Patrick Keliher of the Maine Department of Marine Resources told a roomful of lobstermen at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum Saturday at the Samoset Resort that this discrepancy among license holders and active fishermen is called “latency.” He said that it is a concern that must be addressed in order to successfully manage the state’s most lucrative fishery.
Keliher said there are a number of reasons why latent licenses might become active, including changing personal circumstances, changes in other fisheries and the threat of losing licenses due to changes in management strategies. If those inactive fishermen started to set the traps they’re entitled to by law, it could stress the fishery, or certainly change it.
“There are 1.2 million trap tags that are not in the water,” the commissioner told the fishermen. “We can’t say, ‘We can’t talk about it,’ if we know it’s a problem. Having the conversation now, when there’s no threat or need to change, is a much different conversation than it could be in the future.”