The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Lobster Board passed Addendum 27 last May, which entailed implementing a gauge increase in response to juvenile lobsters reaching a 35 percent decline.

The gauge size increase was initiated in 2017 as a proactive measure to improve the resiliency of lobster stock in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank but was paused due to prioritized work on the North Atlantic right whales. In 2021, the addendum was revised to consider adding a trigger mechanism that measures gauge and vent size.

These proposed triggers were based on an observed abundance of lobsters with 71-80 millimeter carapace length. This would mean that the size of “keepers” for the state of Maine lobstermen would change significantly while bordering Canadian lobstermen still get to sell the previous size allowed.

On October 16, 2023, the Lobster Board was told that the combined index of sub-legal lobsters from surveys on trawl and ventless traps has declined by 39 percent, which was 4 percent more than the trigger established in the addendum.

Suppose the change to a bigger gauge is enacted: In that case, the state Department of Marine Resources and other Maine-based organizations, such as the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA), and fishermen themselves will need to find ways to address inequities that the state will have with Canada if Maine were to fish on a bigger gauge, as well as other unique issues fishermen face in the Gray Zone. 

The original timeline stated that the Addendum would implement the change on June 1, 2024. However, as requested through comments from DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher and others, there has been a delay in the gauge increase.

“While I would have liked to have seen a one-year delay, that was not supported by the full Board. The compromise was a seven-month delay and was supported by all the States and was opposed by the National Marine Fisheries Service.” Keliher stated. The change will now be implemented on Jan. 1, 2025, with the first gauge increase for Lobster Management Area 1 of 1/16" to 3-5/16".

The delay in implementation will hopefully provide additional time for the Maine lobster fishery to work with Canadian fisheries officials on management measures that support the equity of fishermen and stock resiliency on both sides of the border. The Commission plans to gather more input from harvesters, dealers, and processors throughout the winter and will update the Lobster Advisory Council and Zone Council.

The primary concern raised by the MLA on the Draft Addendum is how the new gauge size limit could negatively impact the boat price for U.S.-caught lobster. They are concerned that Downeast Maine lobstermen will be the most affected, as they will have to throw back short lobsters that Canadian lobstermen can still catch. The MLA recommended that ASMFC conduct a study to understand the market impacts of a U.S.-only gauge increase.

Maine fishermen stand ready to adopt new rules to protect this resource, but if these lobsters can still be harvested by Canadian lobstermen and sold back to the U.S. market, there is potential that this difference will drive down the price. 

“Maine lobstermen have taken seriously their responsibility to maintain a resilient lobster stock to help ensure a healthy fishery for today and future generations," said Patrice McCarron, the MLA policy director. “It must be done on a fair playing field.”

Have you listened to this article via the audio player?

If so, send us your feedback around what we can do to improve this feature or further develop it. If not, check it out and let us know what you think via email or on social media.

Carli is a Content Specialist for National Fisherman. She comes from a fourth-generation fishing family off the coast of Maine. Her background consists of growing her own business within the marine community. She resides on one of the islands off the coast of Maine while also supporting the lobster community she grew up in.

Join the Conversation