A Maine congressman and fishing groups are urging the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) to delay the proposed increase to the minimum allowable catch size for Maine lobstermen. Concerns have been raised regarding the dire economic consequences this could have on harvesters and Maine’s economy.

Last May, the ASMFC Lobster Board passed Addendum 27, which would entail implementing a gauge increase from 3 ¼ inches to 3 5/16 inches in response to juvenile lobsters reaching a 35 percent decline. The increase was initiated in 2017 as a proactive measure to improve the resilience of the lobster stock in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank but was paused to prioritize work on the North Atlantic right whales. There was a seven-month delay in implementing the gauge, which will now be enforced on Jan. 1, 2025.

In a letter addressed to Robert Beal, the executive director of ASMFC, Rep. Jared Golden shared that he is “deeply concerned about the implications a gauge increase next year- absent robust economic and scientific analyses- will have on the viability of Maine’s lobster industry and the communities it supports.”

Fishermen, Rep. Golden, and lobster dealers are concerned that the data used by ASMFC to arrive at the 35 percent trigger index was “overly precautionary” and may not accurately reflect the current status of the stock.

The Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) also wrote to Beal and the American Lobster Board, stating, “The MLA respectfully requests that the American Lobster Board delay the implementation of the schedule of Lobster Management Area 1 gauge increases, which begins January 2025.” They also shared their concern about the reference period used from 2016-2018 and the percent trigger decline, both of which are “overly precautionary.”

The MLA referenced their comment letter from April 2023 that stated, “Potential trade issues arising from the Magnuson Act prohibition on the import and sale of lobsters smaller than the U.S.

The minimum was raised when the previous draft of Addendum 27 was released, yet this issue is not addressed in the updated addendum. MLA understands anecdotally that ASMFC has determined that the proposed increases to the LMA 1 minimum gauge will not impede lobster imports from Canada. However, this information is not (but should be) included in the addendum.”

Rep. Golden also raised concerns about ASMFC and the Maine Department of Marine Resources not relying more on the observations and experience of Maine lobstermen, who “possess invaluable local knowledge and expertise.” He also noted that implementing the gauge increase could disadvantage Maine lobstermen compared to Canadian fishermen, who may not have to comply with the same regulations. 

MLA president Kristan Porter spoke at the most recent ASMFC meeting in Washington, DC, on April 30. “I fish in an area called the gray zone in Downeast Maine. We share the same area as Canada, so if I am going to have to throw lobsters back that they (Canada) will still be able to keep, then it’s putting us on an uneven playing field with our neighbor.” 

However, this addendum isn’t the only one that Maine fishermen are concerned with. Porter further shared, “The MLA does not believe that a gauge increase is necessary at this time, and we also oppose 24/7 tracking that impinges on individual privacy,” referring to Addendum 29.

It would require electronic vessel tracking for all federally permitted vessels. 

Porter further shared that fishing vessels up and down the coast are used for much more than fishing, “they are used as school busses, for grocery runs, and as a way of transportation for many Mainers from islands to the mainland.”

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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.

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