AUGUSTA — A proposal to allow fishermen to keep and sell lobsters they scoop up in trawling nets has rekindled an old debate between those who hope to revive Maine's groundfishing industry and lobstermen who guard the state's most valuable fishery.
Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the sponsor of L.D. 1097, said the bill would permit trawlers to land "incidentally caught" lobsters, known as bycatch, in some federally regulated waters and sell them at the Portland Fish Exchange.
Haskell submitted a similar proposal in 2007. It was soundly defeated as lobstermen argued that drag gear indiscriminately harms lobsters and endangers the large females that are considered the lifeblood of the fishery.
On Monday, Haskell's latest bill drew fierce opposition from lobstermen, who said at a public hearing that groundfish boats would target lobster, damage the product and undercut conservation efforts.
"I am deeply saddened to be here before you on this bill," said David Cousens, president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association. "Not only does this proposal seek to undo one of the pillars of lobster conservation, but this issue is divisive for Maine's fishing industry."
Still, the bill may have some momentum. The LePage administration is backing it, as is Portland Mayor Michael Brennan. Both argued Monday that the bill is a lifeline to the groundfish industry, which Haskell said is "hanging by a thread" because of reduced catch quotas imposed by the federal government.
Meredith Mendelson, deputy commissioner for the Department of Marine Resources, told lawmakers that lobsters are already being caught in federal waters, then landed and sold in other states. That includes Maine-based vessels that fish in three federally regulated zones and are allowed to land drag-caught lobsters.
Read the full story at the Portland Press Herald>>